Each day leading up to Sept. 21, the official start of Sixers training camp, we'll dissect the biggest storylines facing the team ahead of the 2018-19 season.
Today, Matt Haughton and Noah Levick tackle what head coach Brett Brown can improve upon for the new season.
Brett Brown did a lot of things right in his first season with a full complement of legit NBA players. The coached pushed the right buttons last season to help the Sixers claim the No. 3 seed in the East and their first playoff series win in six years.
It’s just that it took a bit of time for Brown to find the correct buttons to put the team in gear.
If you recall, the Sixers started out 2017-18 with a starting lineup that included Jerryd Bayless with Dario Saric coming off the bench. When JJ Redick cracked a bone in his left leg, it was Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot only for him to him to disappear from the rotation later down the line. And of course there was the constant question every game of whether Richaun Holmes would see the floor or not.
It wasn’t until Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova joined the Sixers that Brown was finally able to slot every role just the way he wanted. It’s no coincidence those additions sparked the Sixers 19-3 finish to the regular season.
The better Brown is at the outset of identifying how the players mesh together and determining their roles will be key to the team getting into a rhythm much earlier.
Brown was excellent last season at accentuating his players’ strengths. He drew up creative plays to get Joel Embiid the ball in the post, made the most of JJ Redick’s ability as a screener, trusted a 6-foot-10 rookie in Ben Simmons to handle point guard duties and encouraged him to push the pace.
If the Sixers are going to take another step forward, Brown needs to be more effective at covering up his players’ weaknesses.
In the Sixers’ postseason loss to the Celtics, Brad Stevens exposed Simmons’ practically non-existent jumper, having his defense sag off the rookie. Brown countered by playing Simmons more off the ball and in the post, but Simmons still had a subpar series by his standards, finishing minus-63, the worst of any player in the series.
The Sixers’ season-long issue with blowing big leads also resurfaced against Boston in a devastating Game 2 loss in which they squandered a 22-point edge. The next day, Brown admitted having second thoughts about not calling a timeout to stop the Celtics’ second-quarter run.
Those sort of heat of the moment, in-game decisions are going to be difficult for any head coach in the NBA playoffs for the first time. But for Brown and the Sixers, who led the league with 16.5 turnovers per game, it’s a continuous struggle to find the middle ground between pushing the tempo regardless of the situation and sitting on a lead, between playing fast and free and taking care of the ball.