Game Preview | Tried and True Method Guides Brown's Teaching Approach

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

At the heart of every good coach, there more often than not is a good teacher.

The professions may go by different words, but their core missions are similar.

Educate. Improve. Enrich. Mentor. Lead.

In Brett Brown and Gregg Popovich, the 76ers (20-11) and San Antonio Spurs (15-15) have two of the NBA’s preeminent teachers coaching their respective teams.

This statement that can be made about Brown given the strong track record for player development he’s built up in nearly 20 years in the league - first, as an assistant under Popovich, and now as the Sixers’ leading man.

As for Popovich, you probably don’t need a Sixers.com article to tell you why the fourth-winningest coach of all-time is probably the best to ever do it. We’ll simply leave you with this opinion - it would be oversight to attribute his heady accomplishments to Xs-and-Os alone.

Given the extent to which Brown and Popovich worked together - 12 years, 663 wins, four championships, and five NBA Finals appearances - it would almost be shocking if there weren’t some parallels between them.   

Sure enough, a prominent one lies in their shared belief in a teaching style commonly referred to as the Whole-Part-Whole method.  

“Pop taught us in San Antonio ‘Whole-Part-Whole,’” said Monty Williams, who was a coaching intern during San Antonio’s 2004-05  title run, when Brown was also on the staff.

Williams is currently in his first season on Brown’s bench, after spending the past two years as the Spurs’ Vice President of Basketball Operations.

“You show [players] everything, you break it down, then you put it back together.”

Across the board, Whole-Part-Whole influences how Brown runs the Sixers. One example, Williams said, is the way assistants are tasked with structuring their one-on-one development sessions with players.

Take the case of Landry Shamet.

Over the summer, when the promising rookie first started working with Williams, they would (as they continue to do) devote a tone to focusing on how Shamet’s role and position was supposed to function in the context of various situations.

How could a dribble hand-off, for instance, or coming off a pindown hold the key to unlocking an optimal 3-point shot? What should he do depending on the type of set the Sixers are in?

Whole-Part-Whole instruction has helped the 2018 no. 26 learn.

“I think anybody can go in the gym, dribble the ball, and hoist up a three or something,” Shamet said. “That’s just not realistic. I think workouts and skill development should be realistic and replicate what you’re going to see in a game.”

When you get into the laws of teaching, [Whole-Part-Whole] is the overarching thing,” Brown said.

While Brown’s stint in San Antonio reinforced to him the value of Whole-Part-Whole, his appreciation for the teaching tactic goes back much farther in life, to within the walls of his childhood house.

Brown’s father, Bob, was a school teacher and an accomplished high school and college coach. Whether the subject matter was books or basketball, Whole-Part-Whole was ever-present.

These days, it’s also a central component of Brown’s film sessions with the Sixers. He’s a big believer that “vision trumps all senses.”

“If you see it, you have a chance to do it.”

So, Brown first introduces the big picture, then zooms in on the finer details. Finally, he pulls back out to 30,000 feet.

“When you drape that notion over a Whole-Part-Whole method, you kind of end up there.”

After so many years as a coach, evolution is important to Brown. But his successes seem to have taught him this: by making sure the parts are great, the whole can be even better.

“How you teach, how people learn, how you set things up where there’s a logic progression, as you get older and you coach longer and longer,” he said, “it might be the single thing that interests me the most.”

Opponent Outlook:

We’ll readily admit it.

The other night, on the eve of the Sixers’ match-up with Cleveland, we were monitoring what was happening in San Antonio’s game against the Chicago Bulls. When the Spurs got up big in the first half, leading by as many as 21, we stopped paying attention.

Well, the joke was on us.

Chicago, on the road no less, outscored San Antonio 55-31 in the second stanza to emerge with an impressive 98-93 victory. The Spurs hit just 5 of 21 shots (1-7 3fg) in the fourth quarter, and subsequently saw a season-high tying four-game winning streak end.

In his debut campaign with San Antonio, All-Star DeMar DeRozan is averaging 23.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. No player in Spurs history has ever posted a 20.0 / 5.0 / 5.0 season.

Follow Along:

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network

Video: NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports MyTeams app