Elton Brand & the New Sixers
Last week I was swamped at work. With so many more things to do than time to do them, I shouted into the void “Is there anyone else with this much work to do?” To my amazement, the void shouted back, a low rumble like a classic Chevy: “Look at the Sixers bench, dude!” It was Elton Brand. I realized then that his task of adding actual depth to the Sixers bench was far more daunting than my own. His work to strengthen Philadelphia’s starting five was acclaimed at the deadline, and has Philly faithful thinking Finals, but has come at the cost of the bench. Have any of his new acquisitions allayed those concerns? Let’s take a look at the new guys and how they’ve fit thus far.
If you have enough confidence to have emojis tattooed on your body in an unironic way, there’s no way you can fail in life. Certainly that’s been true of Mike Scott’s career as a solid rotation player in the planet’s premier basketball league, but ‘solid rotation player’ appears to be his peak. The 21.1 minutes per game Scott has gotten since arriving in the 215 area career high, but he has struggled to make more of them than he has at any point in his career.
Although he has held his own in the post, Scott still struggles with quicker wings attacking off a live dribble. And while Scott has never been confused for an elite defender, he’ll need to offer a bit more defensively to secure a spot in the Sixers playoff rotation. On the other side of the ball, the former Clipper has continued his “meh” ways. He’s shooting a career best from deep but has struggled to create much separation to get to the rim, and is not an impactful offensive player overall. He’s sporting a -13 net rating in his brief Sixers career; that’s not going to get it done for a team that’s in decided win-now mode.
The only thing more exciting than the Sixers acquiring Boban will be the birth of my first son and daughter, Boban and Bobanette. The Marjanovic Mountain range has brought mixed results to Philadelphia depending on your expectations of the 7’3” Serbian. The recent game against the Miami Heat gave us the perfect encapsulation of the Boban experience in one very large nutshell.
In the first half, Bobi feasted on traditional centers Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo, using his singular size and strength to overwhelm two very-large-in-comparison-to-everyone-but-him human beings. In the second half, though, Miami made the adjustment with stretch-big Kelly Olynyk seeing the bulk of the center minutes in the second half, and Bobi struggled to guard him in space.
Marjanovic is a fun player and provides good center depth in Philly -- especially with Embiid resting a cranky knee. With the super-small direction the league is heading, though, it’s likely that over the course of a seven game series, a good opposing coach will scheme him off the floor.
God did Markelle Fultz’s stock plummet if Jonathon Simmons is the best Philly could do for him in trade. Every morning when I wake up, I wonder if it was all a dream...and then I remember that the Sixers traded up to the #1 slot for a player they swapped less than two years later for a former undrafted free agent who averages under five points per game, with a rebound and an assist. Elton Brand better hope whoever has that Markelle Fultz voodoo doll never takes the pins out, because there’s only one Simmons helping the Sixers cause this year and it ain’t Jonathon.
Since I haven’t inspired confidence with my assessment of the Sixers’ new bench, let’s just enjoy how amazing their starting five is! There’s only one thing that Tobias Harris does better than shoot the basketball and that is look and sound exactly like J Cole. Harris has fit in seamlessly so far for a potent Sixers starting five; he’s the perfect complement to Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, offering elite floor spacing and a well-rounded offensive repertoire the team can lean on.
Moreover, with a true ‘Big 4,’ if Brent Brown staggers his rotations well, he can have two bona fide stars on the court at all times, and mitigate some of the well-founded concerns people have about how to make sure there are enough shots to go around. Between Harris and JJ Redick, there are very few lineups without a dynamic shooter, and when they play together, the duo forces defenses to pick their poison.
Speaking of defense and poison, Harris has been a little less glamorous on the other side of the ball. He’s struggled to adapt early to the Sixers’ complex defensive scheme, and too often he’ll be late on rotations or completely lose his man in the constant switching. As a modern ‘4’, Harris has also struggled when switched onto quicker guards, not offering enough resistance as they pick up a head of steam heading to the hoop. Unlike previous players discussed in this breakdown, though, Harris at least has the offensive acumen to outweigh his defensive deficiencies.
When all the trades are said and done, the Warriors are the clear model for the Sixers -- as in many ways they should be. If you look at the Warriors’ roster, the team is pretty bereft of talent after their ‘ohmygod how are these guys all on the same team?’ starting five, and the same is true in Philadelphia. When the playoffs start, rotations usually shorten, stars play more minutes, and depth matters less. If the early returns are any indication, Elton Brand better hope that’s true, at least.