Russell Westbrook most dominant guard Brett Brown has seen in 16 NBA seasons

Russell Westbrook most dominant guard Brett Brown has seen in 16 NBA seasons

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Brett Brown has seen a lot of basketball in his life -- championship, Hall of Fame ball at that.

The 34 triple-doubles and 31.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.3 assists from Russell Westbrook this season, though, that's on another level.

"There is no guard that has been more dominant in my NBA days, 16 years of them, than the numbers that we're seeing Russell Westbrook put up," Brett Brown said at Sixers shootaround Wednesday. 

The 6-foot-3 point guard leads the NBA in scoring, ranks third in assists and 10th in rebounds. He also is first in triple-doubles and second in double-doubles (52). 

There's nothing cordial or subtle about Westbrook's feelings toward his opponents, and Brown likes it that way.

Westbrook's "with us or against us" mentality includes his feelings towards Kevin Durant for leaving the Thunder and the dismissal of Steph Curry's recent comment that he believes James Harden will win MVP.

That outlook plays into Westbrook's MVP-caliber season, the reason why the Thunder are 40-30 and sitting in the sixth spot in the Western Conference heading into Wednesday's game against the Sixers.

Brown knows the mindset needed to win a title. He appreciates the way Westbrook goes about it, even if it's different than what he experienced as a coach for the Spurs. 

"The Spurs did it with more of a -- it was a polite way to do it," Brown said. "He's not polite about it. KG (Kevin Garnett) wasn't polite about it. Kobe Bryant wasn't polite about it. It still gets back to the respect you have for that. No matter how they present it, whether it's polite or not, and it's really hard to present that endearing quality that I'm in love with in a polite way.

"So there was a different mindset because you could say (Manu) Ginobili and (Tim) Duncan had that too, but not to the demonstrative way that Russell has it, or KG, or Kobe. I say that with complete admiration. Tonight, you can just read facial expressions and body language, and you've got somebody that's knocking out historic numbers and has (dragged) his team into being in the playoffs after the departure of Kevin Durant."

On opening night, Westbrook dropped 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists against the Sixers.
Brown looks at the first three seconds of a possession as critical to defending Westbrook. There is no easy formula to restricting him, and it will be a total team effort beyond the point guards.

"So much of it is, and it's kind of cruel because it's so hard, it's like, can you keep the game in front of you?" Brown said.

"Then, can you do it without fouling? He's a master at taking his breakaway speed and reckless abandon and fearless approach and parlaying it into 10, 12, 14 free throws.

"Some of that isn't always the guy that's guarding him. It's the second line people trying to show verticality and not come over. Sometimes just through inertia, you get torpedoed in the chest and you inevitably bend a little bit. But there's a discipline with our bigs to show verticality, make him make tough shots at the rim to the point of who are the candidates that have Russell? He'll see different looks from us. ... We'll live with pull-ups, not layups."

Okafor questionable
The Sixers will find out later in the day if part of their game plan against Westbrook will include Jahlil Okafor. The big man is listed as questionable against the Thunder because of right knee soreness. He did not play Monday in Orlando.

"He looked OK but it still doesn't take him out of the questionable category," Brown said. "We'll be able to share what's going on better before the game tonight. Get him a real good workout and give everybody information after that."

Splitter takes the court
Veteran center Tiago Splitter, who hasn't played since coming over to the Sixers from the Hawks in the Ersan Ilyasova trade last month, made his first appearance with the Delaware 87ers Wednesday as his rehab from a calf strain continues.

In 14 minutes in the 87ers' win, Splitter had five points (1 for 6 FG, 3 for 3 FT) with three rebounds, two assists and a block.

"I thought he was fine," head coach Eugene Burroughs said. "The first game he's played so it's always tough when you haven't played in a while to try and get in a rhythm and get back in the flow. But I thought he did some great things, set some great screens, had some great verticality in the lane defensively and had some really good passes. A guy like that knows how to play basketball." 

Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

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Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown is "star hunting." He's not naming names, but it's clear that LeBron James is at the top of his (and everybody's) list.

Until free agency officially starts on July 1, there's going to be plenty of speculation about whether the Sixers can actually land James. Bovada's latest odds on which team James will be playing for in Game 1 of the 2018-19 season don't give the Sixers a great shot.

The Lakers are now strong favorites, at 4/13. That's presumably because Spurs star Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio and would like to return to his hometown of Los Angeles, specifically with the Lakers. Though the Spurs have said they want to keep Leonard if possible and reports are they don't want to trade him to a team in the Western Conference, the Lakers would definitely be a much more enticing option for James if they managed to get Leonard. 

The Sixers have the fourth-best odds, which are listed in full below.

What team will LeBron James play for Game 1 of the 2018-2019 Season?
Los Angeles Lakers                   4/13
Cleveland Cavaliers                   13/4
Houston Rockets                      15/2
Philadelphia 76ers                     10/1
Boston Celtics                          18/1
San Antonio Spurs                    20/1
Los Angeles Clippers                25/1                                           
New York Knicks                       30/1
Miami Heat                                40/1

2018-19 Rookie of the Year Odds

This season's Rookie of the Year hasn't even been announced yet. We'll know Monday night whether Ben Simmons brings home the award. But the odds for next season's Rookie of the Year are already out, and one of the newest Sixers, first-round pick Zhaire Smith, appears on Bovada's odds.

Unsurprisingly, Smith, who has a lot of room to grow (see story), is a long shot. The No. 16 selection has 45/1 odds to win. No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton has the best odds at 13/5, followed by the Mavs' Luka Doncic and the Kings' Marvin Bagley III. Mikal Bridges has 22/1 odds, while fellow Villanova product and new Milwaukee Buck Donte DiVincenzo makes an appearance at 40/1.

The complete odds are below.

2018-2019 NBA Rookie of the Year – Odds to Win
Deandre Ayton                          13/5
Luka Doncic                              3/1
Marvin Bagley                           9/2
Trae Young                               7/1
Jaren Jackson Jr                       9/1
Mohamed Bamba                      11/1
Kevin Knox                               15/1
Michael Porter Jr                       15/1
Mikal Bridges                            22/1
Collin Sexton                            22/1
Miles Bridges                            28/1
Wendell Carter Jr                       28/1
Donte DiVincenzo                     40/1
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander          40/1
Zhaire Smith                              45/1
Lonnie Walker                           50/1
Robert Williams                         50/1

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With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

With Bryan Colangelo saga in rearview, Sixers use draft as 1st step in repairing image

Even Brett Brown had to admit just how much of a whirlwind this month has been for him.

“This has been a really different June,” he said after the 2018 NBA draft.

That’s certainly an understatement.

In a matter of weeks, Brown went from drawing up plays during the postseason to orchestrating his first draft as interim general manager. And there’s no time to take a breath with free agency barreling down the calendar on July 1.

While Brown has been tasked with running the Sixers’ front office operations for the time being (see story), he has also been put in charge of an even bigger challenge: reshaping the team’s image.

No matter your feelings on the Bryan Colangelo saga, there is no denying it was a black eye for the Sixers. One the franchise could ill afford heading into such an important summer.

So Brown set out to show that the Sixers are truly all about the player-friendly, tight-knit and development culture they have cultivated throughout “the process.” The reinforcement started with grabbing a pair of players in the draft with not only first-round talent, but first-rate character.

“When you look at sort of the values that were most important to us as we decided how to grow this team and select our players, there were none more important than just good people and character,” Brown said Friday of first-rounders Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet. “Personally, when you would see me work the players out and then intermittently we would call people into my office, there was a connection and a comfort level that I had just talking to them as people.”

Of course talent trumps everything and Brown admitted the duo was ultimately snagged because of basketball ability above all else. However, it’s no coincidence that both players are soft-spoken and eager to grind for whatever minutes come their way on the court.

“I just want to come in here, put my work in and let it play out,” Smith said.

“At the end of the day, I just want to be a player that’s known to do whatever a coach needs me to do,” Shamet said. “Whatever the staff or my team needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to be. … Coming in and working hard and doing what I can on a day-to-day basis.”

What’s a little competition between family?

Oh, make no mistake, the Sixers see the program they’ve constructed as a family. And now that the branch of the tree that tends to talk way too much on social media is gone, Brown wants every draft pick that enters the building (and superstar that is willing to listen) to know this organization is a place you want to be.

“We’d like to welcome Zhaire’s family, we’d like to welcome Landry’s family to our home,” Brown said. “As I told these two young players, [they have] the ability to walk into this building and look up behind us and recognize the true history of this organization. To be able to look around and see the backyard that they now have and see sports science, and see a strength and conditioning program, and see an analytics department, and seeing the medical staff, and seeing the video area, and looking at our kitchen, which we kind of designed almost like a college atmosphere where we all go up as a team, as a family, an organization and spend time. This is their backyard where they’re going to get better.”

Now Brown hopes the franchise is stable enough again to add a high-profile name to the family by the time the July 4 BBQ rolls around.

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