What is the Proper Way to Evaluate Brown in a Down Year?


Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 offseason has been an intriguing one to say the least for the Philadelphia 76ers, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Coming off a season that saw the Sixers take the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals, the 2012-2013 team was supposed to build off their newfound success. However, the players failed to continue their development and the acquisition of Andrew Bynum was a major failure. As a result, the Sixers took a step backwards and became a lottery team once again. This forced management to bring about several changes such as the hiring of Brett Brown to be the new head coach.

After spending the previous six seasons as the assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs under the great Greg Popovich, Brown will take over a team that is, believed by many executives and analysts, destined to struggle and could possibly be the favorite to land the first overall pick in the 2014 draft. As the roster currently stands, only three players have been in the league for longer than five years. Aside from Kwame Brown, Jason Richardson, and Thaddeus Young, the rest of the roster is filled with young players who have yet to find their niche in the NBA including rookies Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel.

With the inexperience and young talent on this current roster, it is obvious that the upcoming season will be a rebuilding year for the Sixers. Many fans around Philadelphia have already embraced the idea of tanking with slogans such as “Riggin‘ for Wiggins”, referring to the consensus probable first overall pick in the upcoming 2014 draft. The question that has been overlooked, however, is how should new head coach Brett Brown be evaluated knowing that the team is in tank mode this season? All eyes will be on Brown as he tries to introduce his coaching philosophy and help this team improve after last season’s failure. Knowing this, Brown will be evaluated in main areas: Team chemistry, player development, and offensive production.

Team Chemistry

As the new head coach, Brett Brown’s first order of business will be to find a way for all these new players to gel together on the court. The current roster only has seven players remaining from last years team, but several of them failed to see regular playing time under Collins. Each of these players has their own style of play that suites them as a player. For instance, Michael Carter-Williams is a penetrating point guard, who uses to ability to get into the lane and pass off to open teammates or finish at the rim. This is almost the complete opposite play style of James Anderson, a new comer who has yet to make an impact in the NBA since being drafted in 2010. Anderson is a deadly catch and shoot guard as he has already displayed this preseason.

Unlike last year, this Sixers team is filled with more diversity and flexibility due to the amount of play styles on the roster. There are a number of backcourt options, like Carter-Williams and Anderson, with the ability to slash, penetrate, and catch and shoot. If Brown can figure out a way for each of these guards to complement one another, then the Sixers offense will be far better than last season. With Carter-Williams and Tony Wrotten getting into the paint and passing to three-point shooters Anderson, Khalif Wyatt, and Evan Turner, the Sixers have the potential to be one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league. It will be up to Brown to find ways to boost team chemistry and helping the Sixers play as one unit.

Along with getting the team to play as a unit, Brown must also get the players to buy into both his offensive and defensive system. One of the problems under Doug Collins was players often disagreed with his system due to the demands he placed on his players. It is safe to assume that Brown will bring some of that San Antonio mentality to this Sixers team, which could work in his favor. When players buy into the schemes of the coach, teams have far more success and for this Sixers team to grow, they must embrace Brown’s system on both ends of the court.

Player Development

When the Sixers signed Brett Brown to be their new head coach, team management had their eye on the future. Brown was awarded a four-year contract in hopes that he will develop a team that can contend for a title for years to come. With this in mind, all eyes will be on Brown and how he handles player development this season.

With an average team age of under 25 years old, Brown will be in charge helping these young players develop each aspect of their game. For this team to be successful, each player needs to have the flexibility to play multiple positions, score in a variety of ways, and defend different positions. Last season we saw Thad Young playing both the three and four position through the game. He also expanded his offensive game to include an outside jump shot. Young will once again be asked to play both positions in the front court this season.

One key player to keep an eye on this season are Evan Turner. Since being taken with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, Turner has failed to live up to the lofty expectations placed on his shoulders. He has struggled to consistently make a jump shot during his three year tenure with the Sixers. The 2012 season was by far Turner’s best as he averaged a career high 13.3 PPG. Turner is entering the final year of his contract and will have to show Sixers’ management that he is a key piece that will help them in the future. In order for him to do this, Brown will be a  crucial part in helping him develop to reach his potential that made him the second overall pick.

Brown will have to take each of these young players under his wing and work on each parts of their game. This season will have more than its fair share of ups and downs for the team as well as for the players, but it also provides each player a chance to grow without the pressure of winning. For Brown and his coaching staff, this season will be successful if each player can develop an aspect of their game.

Offensive Production

The Sixers’ offense ranked 22nd in the league last year. As a team, they averaged 93 PPG and shot only 44% from the field. Brown, on the other hand, helped lead a Spurs team that ranked second in the league with 103 PPG. No one in expecting the Sixers to score remotely close to that number this season, but Brown will be evaluated on how much the team’s offense improves.

We’ve seen glimpses of Brown’s offensive system through the first three preseason games thus far. Utilizing the athleticism and speed of his team, Brown is following the footsteps of Collins and running an up tempo system that will focus on a run and gun type offense. For a team that lacks a true go to scorer, this is the perfect system for a young, athletic Sixers team. All offseason Brown emphasized how each player needed to be in top physical shape. Brown wants his players to be in better shape than opposing teams in order to run them up and down the court until they are tired.

The Sixers have the right players for this system on their roster. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams is an athletic guard with good speed and court vision to run this type of offense. Turner, Anderson, and Young all have the skills to score in the open court. If Brown can successfully institute this type of offense to get easy buckets in the open court, the Sixers will improve offensively.

Brown must also find a way to score in half court opportunities. The Sixers struggled mightily in these situations last year. They often settled for long jumpers and contested shots because of their lack of on court chemistry and a player who could create his own shot. Brown will have to create plays to get open shots for these young players. This is where the team chemistry and players complimenting each other will come into play for Brown’s offense.

As noted earlier, if Brown can set up situations for Carter-Williams and Turner to penetrate and kick out to the perimeter for open shots or drop it off to Spencer Hawes and Thad Young, the Sixers will be able to score in the half court. Brown will also have to utilize Thad Young in the pick and roll game. With his newfound offensive touch away from the basket, Young will be able to set a screen on the perimeter and receive a pass to shoot from the perimeter as well as cutting to the basket for a lay up. Young was relatively ineffective in the pick and roll game last season, but it should be a big part of the offense this year.

It will take some time for the Sixers’ offense to grow and develop to play as a team. There will be games where the team fails to consistently score the basketball but these are the growing pains of a young team. If Brown can create easy shots for this team and raise their shooting percentage, his offense will be able to be evaluated in a successful way.

In conclusion, we will be unable to truly evaluate Brown in his first year as the Sixers coach until the year is over. When it’s all said and done, Brown will not be judged by how many wins the team accumulates, but how he handles the team’s young players. Brown will be expected to garner team chemistry as the year goes on and help each player develop aspects of their game. The underlying message here is to remain patient with Brown during his inaugural season. It will be a long year filled with little on court team success in the win column, but the real success will come with the growth of each player under Brown. If he can help these players improve this year, the Sixers will be set up well for the future.