Before the regular season started, there seemed to be some speculation (I include myself among that group) that the 76ers might just contend for a playoff spot. In the very early preseason, in that first week of training camp, when this team’s ability was judged not yet against another NBA team inside an arena, but by watching the players against one another on the practice court, fighting for a playoff spot seemed a distinct possibility. A new coach, a handful of new players, a No. 2 draft pick, but as soon as the preseason games began – and, yes, we know preseason games are difficult to judge – there was little doubt that this would be a difficult season.
One preseason game in particular, the one against the Cleveland Cavaliers played in Roanoke, VA, looked particularly disturbing. There was a distinct vibe on the court that was worrisome; the game was a complete waste in terms of serving any purpose whatsoever except for highlighting the Sixers’ shortcomings: there was little cohesion, J.J. Hickson was a monster on the boards, there was a certain sense of disconnect. Sixers coach Doug Collins was not on the bench for that game (which probably contributed to the poor play) because he had returned early to Philly to deal with vertigo symptoms.
If anything, a prediction of 30-32 wins, which was pretty standard in the week leading up to the start of the regular season, seemed entirely fair. And in the first 10 games of the season, you’ve seen some of the reasons why that initial optimism almost immediately disappeared. This is not to say that the Sixers haven’t competed each and every night (omitting Saturday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs, which was a disaster), because they have. But the issues present in that preseason game against Cleveland were in full effect on Saturday.
We have some contributors/posters on this blog who are detailed in their statistical analysis of all things Sixers, so as a warning going forward, this observation is not based upon game-by-game research of the Sixers during the last two-plus seasons, but rather in the cumulative sum of having watched 150-plus of the games. So if anyone has compiled stats they’d like to share on the topic, post them below, or email me at email@example.com
, and I’ll try to put them up.
So, here goes.
Can Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand play together effectively? In theory, you would think they’d be able to. Brand would be the post presence, draw the occasional double team, run the pick-and-roll with Iguodala, and life would be merry. In this ideal world, Brand would post on the low block, garner the attention of a few defenders, Iguodala would slice through the line for a little bounce pass and throw down a jam. Next possession, Iguodala would make the same cut and the defenders would honor it, and Brand could go to work. Probably, when Ed Stefanski signed both Brand and Iguodala to max deals, this was the assumed vision.
In reality, the two just don’t seem to flourish together. It’s not as if they’re awful together, but it seems when they’re both healthy and on the court together, each of them is knocked down to about 65 percent effectiveness (remember, this is perception and I just decided on that number arbitrarily from two-plus years of watching – blogging is fun like that). During the 2008-09 season, when Brand was sidelined with the shoulder injury, Iguodala had a pretty decent year. He hit a number of game-winning shots and was very consistently the team’s go-to player. Last season, with both of them healthy, Iguodala’s numbers were decent, not great, and Brand’s numbers were decent, not great. The two of them, together, probably accounted for a little over one max contract player, but obviously the Sixers are paying for two.
This season, this whole theory has been put under the microscope for two reasons: 1.) Because Brand is healthy, has been playing so well, and has been really effective offensively. 2.) Because for the first time in 250 games, Iguodala missed games. For the first time since Brand signed, we were able to watch the Sixers play with Brand, but without Iguodala. It seemed as if many people liked what they saw.
Here’s the impression of the difference. When Iguodala was healthy, but Brand was injured (and we recognize there have been other shifts in personnel, but these are impressions), the flow of the offense was orientated around the perimeter. There would be at least the standard pick-and-roll each possession; there would be penetration to the basket, and obviously the traditional fast-break game. With this setup, an actual post game was very sporadic, so while there was still plenty of standing and watching (it is an NBA team after all!), it wasn’t so much watching a post player. This was effective during the 2008-09 season, but a large percentage of that success should be credited to Andre Miller. In addition, this style can only take the Sixers so far, as we witnessed in multiple playoff appearances.
Last week, when a healthy Brand was the key half-court player, and Iguodala was sidelined with Achilles tendinitis, Brand seemed even more effective in his game. The team’s offense was still predicated on the play of Jrue Holiday, but there was a very natural sense that every third possession or so Brand would get the ball and go to work. Brand has been very successful this season in that position. Without Iguodala, there was no confusion or split role about who would get these dedicated possessions. The whole thing worked quite well, with Brand crashing the offensive boards even when Holiday, Turner, Meeks, Young, Speights, etc., were doing their thing from the mid-range/three-point line. More importantly, the effectiveness of how the Sixers played against the New York Knicks (the one victory without Iguodala), actually looked like a performance they’d be able to replicate quite often. It wasn’t fool’s gold, as sometimes the Sixers’ offense can be on a night when they happen to shoot 11 for 18 from the three-point line, but do that only once every 20 games.
This is not a commentary on either Iguodala or Brand, but on the effectiveness of the two of them together, which should be paramount to deciding what happens next with this franchise.
On the Road: I’ve posted the third video of our On the Road series, which should be embedded in this post. An early morning at the San Antonio International Airport, which is pretty indicative of life on the road.
Each week, Kate will check in from the road and answer fan questions about the Sixers. Click here to ask Kate a question or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.