Monday, December 22, 2008

Better Brand of Basketball

Today, I read some thoughts on Dime and FreeDarko about Josh Smith's struggles to fit in since returning from injury.

The gist of those sentiments is, essentially, Josh Smith isn't a true power forward or even a true small forward, and his presence in the paint clutters up the works for Al Horford, a bona fide power forward. Add in the swing game of Marvin Williams, Joe Johnson as the unquestioned 2 and Mike Bibby manning the point, where exactly does Josh Smith fit into this team? It's almost as if they've forgotten about him while he was injured, and now, all the sudden, he doesn't fit.

Maybe it will just take a little time. And it's not as if the Hawks are struggling. But something is off with Smith so far this year compared to last year.

All this got me thinking about the 76ers. Elton Brand, since he has been here, just hasn't meshed well with his Philadelphia teammates. A team that grew leaps and bounds by running, running and running some more felt obligated to get Elton the ball, slow things down and run the offense through the big free agent signing. He was supposed to be the low post presence the Sixers desperately needed. But he was also supposed to help the Sixers become better in the half court while not hindering the running of this young, energetic team.

Well, it hasn't quite worked out that way. In fact, Brand has seemed to muddy the waters for a team that lived and died with its transition game last season. And Brand hasn't been what many fans thought—a low post presence. Brand, in actuality, is a high post power forward, capable of doing some scoring around the rim, but mostly just blocking shots and grabbing boards down low, while scoring from the 10-14 foot range.

It's been a complicated process, and the team has looked like it's tried too hard to adjust its game to fit Brand's style, not the other way around. As a result, Andre Iguodala, Louis Williams and Samuel Dalembert struggled mightily early on. What the Sixers needed was a big man who could run at the same pace as the Sixers, a guy who could rebound, block shots and be the first one down the floor … a guy like Josh Smith. I know, I know. The Hawks were going to match the offer anyway. I get that. But the Sixers could have saved the cash, waited until next year and make another run at players that fit what this team is all about.

Instead, they went with the big name, a guy coming off a serious injury (and a guy who is injured again, albeit a completely different injury), and everyone applauded them for it. But the Sixers didn't think this one through. They didn't see what Brand's effect would be on the rest of the players. Turns out, it wasn't good early on. Not at all.

And now, suddenly, with Brand going down, the Sixers have looked a lot more like that team that finished up the 2007-08 campaign. The power forward they've coveted all along seems to be emerging with Brand out of the lineup. Marreese Speights, the rookie out of Florida, has been what we all thought Brand would be for this team. The guy is providing a strong inside presence, both offensively and defensively, and, here's the real plus, he's running the floor at the same tempo as the likes of Louis Williams and Andre Iguodala.

As a result, Iguodala and Lou Will, particularly Lou Will, are playing better. The team is playing better. And the Sixers are starting to resemble last year's squad. Sure, they've won 3 of 4 going against the likes of Washington, Milwaukee and Indiana, but they are beginning to get back to what worked for them last year.

The biggest key has been the expanded role of Speights. With him in the lineup, the Sixers don't feel the need to feed him in the half court almost every trip like they did with Brand. They aren't slowing down, waiting for Elton. As a result, the players look more comfortable and relaxed, which is translating into better offensive production and much, much more running. And Marreese has provided energy that Brand simply did not, like this:

And this:

And this:

He just looks like a better fit at power forward for the Sixers. And it's really a shame when you think about it. Instead of splurging, paying more than $160 million for Brand and Iguodala, the Sixers could have made a more reasonable offer to Andre (6 years, $60 million?) and made a run at Smith. Then, at worst, the Sixers end up with Iguodala at a much cheaper price and a ton of cap space for this upcoming offseason, when Andre Miller comes off the books as well. I don't want to get on Ed Stefanski too hard for investing in Brand and Iguodala, but it seems like, at least to this point, he made two big mistakes there, effectively rendering the Sixers useless in the upcoming free agent markets.

In the meantime, a rookie that some people thought wouldn't work hard enough to become a good pro has looked like a better power forward option for this team than Brand. It's kind of depressing when you really sit back and think about it. For the next 5 years, the Sixers are saddled with the heavy contracts of Brand and Iguodala, when the guys who really look they can be special are Thaddeus Young, Marreese Speights and Louis Williams. But as long as Brand and Iguodala are around, they will be getting in the way of Speights and Young, what with sharing the same position and all.

It's still probably too early to really grade the moves by Stefanski thus far, but all those moves that looked so good on paper aren't looking so good on the court. At least Marreese Speights is.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. That is a depressing post man. Very good points though.

  2. I hear you, but if the young ones are a better option then they will continue winning and force Brand to change his game and run or force management to find a way to move Brand, or lose trying to make a hybrid work.

  3. I'm not ready to completely give up on this experiment yet, but I had reservations about Brand initially, before getting excited that it was the right move. Looking my gut instincts were correct thus far, but my predictions that it would work well are way, way off.

    I just don't see why they would want to lock up that much money to those two guys when there are some big-time players hitting the market in the next 3 offseasons.