Elton Brand

How will all the pieces fit? More ‘fair questions’ face Brett Brown, Sixers’ offense

How will all the pieces fit? More ‘fair questions’ face Brett Brown, Sixers’ offense

There are a good number of “Brett Brown-isms” — phrases distinct to the Sixers’ head coach or terms he’ll turn to often in talking with the media. Out of them all, “It’s a fair question” might best encapsulate the second half of the 2018-19 season.

Brown faced a lot of fair questions about Jimmy Butler’s role in the offense, his efforts to add more pick-and-roll and isolation, where Tobias Harris fit and much more.

Some games, it all made sense. Butler ran the show at the point with a heavy emphasis on ball screens, Ben Simmons did damage in transition and Joel Embiid was a weapon in the post. But often, the pieces didn’t quite work together. The half-court offense was nightmarish in the final few minutes of that devastating Game 7 in Toronto, when the shot clock seemed to always be ticking down the last couple of seconds.

Not as well as they should’ve,” Harris said Friday when asked whether all the pieces ever connected. “We had good little spurts of it, but they weren’t really consistent for us. I felt like we got out of it as much as we could’ve in that timeframe with the different types of games, different types of personalities or whatnot. We needed more time. We needed more time, we needed more cohesiveness. That’s something that we have now, so we have to really maximize that fully.

The Sixers do indeed have time now, with their new starting five all under contract through at least the next two seasons, and they have some different questions to answer.

“I look forward to training camp, figure all that out,” Elton Brand said Friday. “Defensively, of course that’s where we’re going to hang our hat. We should be one of the top defensive teams in the league, in my opinion. But we’ll figure out the spacing. We have a lot of versatility. Al Horford can space, Joel Embiid can space, Ben’s working on his game, Josh is a high-level scorer and Tobias is a high-level shooter and scorer also, so we’re looking forward to making that work in training camp. But it’s going to take some time. It should take some time.”

Brand is probably right that a lot of “figuring it out” will happen in training camp, when his new team will be together for the first time. Still, you’d think Brown and his staff have already started to think about offensive schemes and fit.

Simmons and Harris will likely spend more time with the ball in their hands as a byproduct of Butler’s departure. Harris had occasional opportunities to run late-game, middle pick-and-rolls, but those were mostly a Butler staple. Harris only averaged 3.7 fourth-quarter points per game in the regular season with the Sixers, 2.5 in the playoffs. And, in the rare moments when he was in the spotlight, his pick-and-roll partner was often Boban Marjanovic. Out of all the things that will likely “take some time,” Harris’ pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid is among the most important. 

For Harris, it will also be key to prove his subpar three-point shooting numbers with the Sixers last season (32.6 percent in the regular season, 34.9 percent in the playoffs) were just a blip. Richardson shot a tick over league average from three at a high volume last year, while Horford should have no problem sliding into a stretch-four role. Embiid’s soft touch and good free throw shooting (80.4 percent in 2018-19) have not translated to efficiency from the outside. Simmons has yet to show — in a game setting — that he should be part of the conversation about the team’s three-point shooting. 

Some of the strategy for Brown won't be too difficult to figure out. His team is huge and has multiple post-up threats, so we should see the Sixers play more “inside-out,” with the offense revolving around Simmons, Embiid or Horford down low. Brown already has post offense principles and spacing in place that aim to play to Embiid and Simmons’ respective strengths (see film review). 

Many elements of the Sixers’ offense will be “organic,” another favorite Brown term. The Sixers should force more than the 12.7 turnovers per game they did last season — 27th in the NBA — and their transition offense should prosper as a result. Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle are two young players who could make a unique impact in that area. 

Other questions for Brown and the Sixers will remain open well into the season. This time around, there’s much greater freedom to explore what does and doesn’t work, and much less pressure to hit on answers immediately.

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Will Kyle Korver return to Sixers? Elton Brand drops an interesting hint

Will Kyle Korver return to Sixers? Elton Brand drops an interesting hint

Elton Brand’s busy offseason is not over.

The Sixers’ general manager acknowledged Tuesday morning in an interview on 97.5 The Fanatic’s “Farzetta and Tra in the Morning” show that he’s still working to fill out the Sixers’ roster. The team currently has 13 players on the roster and could add two more. 

When Marc Farzetta asked Brand about adding a player with similar shooting abilities to the departed JJ Redick, Brand dropped an interesting hint.

We’d love to have that. Spacing is key. We’re going to hang our hats on defense, but when it’s crunch time you’re going to need spacing to operate. So we are looking for players that can space the court. We are in talks with a few of them, so we’ll see how that goes. Hopefully the city will have someone that they know and can receive them well. 

He didn’t use his name, but Brand sure seemed to be talking about former Sixer Kyle Korver. Some Sixers fans might be familiar with available free agents like Thabo Sefolosha and Jose Calderon, but Brand has to be aware that fans know all about Korver.

The Sixers are reportedly a frontrunner to land the 38-year-old, who’s an unrestricted free agent after being waived by the Phoenix Suns. Korver is a career 42.9 percent shooter from three-point range and has made the fourth most threes in NBA history. 

Given the Sixers’ salary cap situation, Korver would need to be willing to accept a veteran minimum deal to come back to Philadelphia. 

A return to the city where he started his professional career would make a lot of sense for both parties. As Brand said, the Sixers could use some outside shooting. And for Korver, you’d think the chance to play for a team that looks poised to contend for a championship would be appealing. 

You can listen to the full interview with Brand here

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In first true offseason, Elton Brand is building Sixers in his image

In first true offseason, Elton Brand is building Sixers in his image

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s crazy to think about Elton Brand’s journey. He played his last NBA game on April 10, 2016. On Friday, he was introducing the newest additions to the team he has built as the Sixers GM.

One of the players introduced was Al Horford. The two big men actually played together for two seasons in Atlanta. Horford was just 28 when a 34-year-old Brand joined the Hawks.

Horford told those in attendance a story about their time together. While on the road, Horford and a few of his teammates were getting ready to leave the team hotel and head out to dinner. When they were heading into the elevator, they saw Brand, drenched in sweat, heading back to his room after working out at the hotel gym.

It stuck with Horford. It’s part of the reason that when Brand came calling, Horford was interested.

“I got to watch him as a younger player and see how professional he was, how he took care of his body,” Horford said during his introductory press conference. “His commitment to wanting to win and do the right things inspired me back then. I think that he believed in me, he believes in this group. When they came and approached me, it felt right. That's why I'm excited to be here, because I know he wants what's best for this city, for Philadelphia, and what we're trying to do."

If there was a theme for the Sixers this offseason, it seemed to be about building a culture. Brand signed players that fit the type of mentality he had as a player himself.

Culture can be a throwaway word in sports — as clichéd as “chemistry” and “taking things one game at a time.” But in this case, it seems clear Brand was looking for what Brett Brown may call, “Adults in the room.”

Horford is the type of player whose numbers won’t blow you away, but there is nothing he can’t do on a basketball court. He’s smart, disciplined and his 12 NBA seasons — all of which ended in a postseason berth — have molded him into one of the most respected leaders in the NBA.

Big man Kyle O’Quinn and point guard Raul Neto may not have been the sexiest signings, but both guys have experience and are willing to take whatever role is necessary in order for the Sixers to win.

“Simply my biggest task is gaining the respect of my colleagues and I think that’s why I’m sitting at this table — having somebody say good things about you without you saying it yourself,” O’Quinn said. “I think I’ve played every role in the NBA. Over my seven years I’ve had the luxury of starting and I’ve had the luxury of being the 15th guy. But the work doesn’t go unnoticed and I’m always ready for any opportunity.”

While experience certainly factors into things, 25-year-old Josh Richardson easily fits into a winning culture. Acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Miami, Richardson has a similar background to the player he was traded for. 

Richardson was a two-star recruit coming out of high school and was drafted in the second round out of Tennessee. He really had to earn his way onto the floor in the NBA with hard-nosed defense and high effort. His offensive game has steadily improved in each of his professional seasons, to the point in which he was the focal point of the Heat’s offense last season.

Playing with like-minded and exceptionally talented players is something the fifth-year wing relishes.

“I had to work for everything at every level so coming here with these guys, it’s going to be easy I think to continue that growth,” Richardson said. “You see how Tobias [Harris], you see this whole team, this whole roster is full of guys that have progressed a lot over their careers. I think it’ll be fun to almost compete — almost see like who can be in the gym the most, see who can beat who or see how much better we can get over these seasons.”

And let’s not forget about Harris, who crossed paths with Richardson at Tennessee. While Harris may have been a bigger recruit and a higher draft pick, he, too, has made strides in his game that have allowed him to reach this level. Harris’ reputation preceded him as a hard worker and tremendous teammate.

And we didn’t even mention James Ennis, who was a second-round pick out of Long Beach State and has bounced around six NBA teams in five seasons, will also be returning. As will fan favorite Mike Scott, known for his toughness and coming to the defense of his teammates.

Scott was also a member of the Hawks with Brand and Horford. While he wasn’t in attendance Friday to provide his usually colorful side of things, Scott, like the now 33-year-old Horford, would surely have a Brand story or two.

It just speaks to the impact Brand had as a player and the kind of impact he wants his current team to have.

"High-character guys who know how to play the game that can still step on the court and pay a lot of dividends — be actual players,” Brand said. “Not just locker-room guys, but we expect them to do a lot on the court, which helps a lot. 

“And our younger players that we're developing, just to see how hard they work. Al told the story of seeing me working out when I was an older player and he was younger. You kind of pay it forward. They see how hard you work, they see how professional you are, they see what it takes to win. That's our goal with having players like that, like Brett Brown would say, 'Adults in the room.'"

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