Brand Optimistic Heading Into Playoffs, and Here's Why
The groundwork has been laid. In due time, the architect, along with the rest of us, will find out how well the roster shaped in his vision will hold up.
About an hour before his first regular season as 76ers General Manager came to a close, Elton Brand sat confidently in front of reporters, and laid out bullish expectations for the journey ahead.
Hide from reality the former Rookie of the Year and two-time All-Star did not.
Brand is as fully aware as you are that the Sixers’ projected post-season starting lineup has played 10 games together.
It’s what the group accomplished during that time together, however, that has Brand optimistic the franchise is capable of making a deep playoff push.
Behind the combo of Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and Joel Embiid, the Sixers went an encouraging 8-2. Their wins came against the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers (with LeBron James), New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Brooklyn Nets - the latter, of course, the Sixers’ first-round opponent in the playoffs.
The two losses were against the playoff-bound Celtics, and the upward-trending Atlanta Hawks (on a buzzer-beater).
The 17.6 net rating that the Sixers’ dynamic first-string unit produced was the best of any five-man lineup that played at least 150 minutes together after the trade deadline.
Brand spent 17 season in the NBA, and went on a handful of post-season runs. He believes that the combination of playoff-tested players and talent produces the right recipe for success.
“Star players win in the playoffs,” he said, “and that’s what we’re built for.”
There were a couple other reasons Brand was high on the Sixers’ post-season prospects.
First, the 40-year old thinks the team currently has more weapons in its offensive arsenal than this time a year ago. In addition to Simmons’ paint-attacking prowess and gifted passing, Embiid’s other-worldly versatility, and Redick’s lethal touch from long-range, the Sixers now boast a pair of all-league caliber wing scorers in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, both of whom have proven themselves capable of closing out games.
Then, on the defensive end, Brand alluded to a few numbers he liked.
It should come as no surprise that with Embiid is on the court, the Sixers are elite defensively, generating a defensive rating of 103.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. For context, the Milwaukee Bucks led the league in defense during the regular season, and their defensive rating was 104.9.
Of additional significance, though, is that the Sixers’ don’t experience much of a dip when back-up Boban Marjanovic replaces Embiid at the five. The Serbian’s 104.8 on-court defensive rating is also terrific.
Mike Scott has held his own at the five, too, on a situational basis. In his 39 total minutes alongside the four other starters - Simmons, Redick, Butler, and Harris - the Sixers’ defensive rating is an airtight 83.5.
Important to Brand is that across the board, the Sixers have defended the perimeter well. They finished the regular season third in both 3-pointers allowed (10.0 / 100 possessions) and attempted (29.1 / 100 possessions), and fourth in opponent 3-point percentage (34.2%).
Those statistics, Brand says, underscore a winning formula.
“We were focused on protecting the rim...and limiting 3-point shots,” Brand said of the Sixers’ defensive philosophy. “That’s our goal. That’s how you win in the playoffs - [defending] shots at the rim, and limiting 3-pointers. We’ve done that.”
Throw in back-to-back 50-win seasons (a first since the mid-1980s), and a second straight 30-win season at home, and Brand has just cause to feel the Sixers are ready to contend.
“I’m confident in this group. I think we’re going to show up well when those bright lights come on.”