Friday October 2nd, 2009

MERION, Pa. -- Reporters who attended the 76ers' practice Wednesday walked into a full scrimmage, a rarity considering the media normally are allowed to view only the last few minutes as a workout winds down. After about an hour -- and more than three hours since practice began -- the visibly tired players left the floor.

Which begs the question: When did Eddie Jordan become a taskmaster?

"They aren't cursing me out yet," Jordan said with a laugh.

Maybe it's because they like what they are seeing. While one source estimated that the Sixers have spent 75 percent of their practice time on defense in training camp, a big reason Jordan was hired to replace interim coach Tony DiLeo is his well-earned reputation as a brilliant offensive tactician (the Wizards ranked in the top four in scoring in two of Jordan's last three full seasons in Washington). And Jordan will need to tap into that knowledge because, despite a glut of young talent, the Sixers have some serious offensive deficiencies.

Let's start with point guard. The defection of Andre Miller to Portland in free agency has left Philadelphia devoid of a capable playmaker. Jordan is left to choose from Lou Williams (a combo guard in the Allen Iverson mold), Royal Ivey (a solid defender but a mediocre offensive player) and rookie Jrue Holiday (more on him below). Williams will likely get the nod to start the season as the Sixers hope Jordan's offense -- which limits the ball-handling responsibilities of the point guard -- will help Williams adjust to the role.

"We like the ball to move," Jordan said. "Our offense starts at three-quarter court, not at the top of the circle. That's when you start to see things. We like to move the ball from side to side and start making our penetrating passes. We want to keep the defense moving."

That was evident early in practice. While Williams was frequently the primary ball handler, his duties were limited to bringing the ball across the half-court line and passing it. On several occasions Williams would bring the ball up only to get it back a few seconds later for an open jump shot. In a way, Williams is a point guard in the backcourt and a shooting guard in the frontcourt.

"We work a lot on our press offense that allows Lou to get a catch and go," Jordan said. "I learned early in my coaching career when I coached Dana Barros in the Big East [that] sometimes you just give it to a guy who can do it and let him go. I think Lou is very good at doing that. We have enough people to initiate the offense."

Jordan's other priority is Elton Brand, who had a nightmarish first season in Philadelphia, averaging a career-low 13.8 points before an injured shoulder ended his year in February. While Brand's slow recovery from an Achilles injury that cost him most of the 2007-08 season played a large role in his early struggles, it was no secret he could never find his footing in the Sixers' run-and-gun offense.

Jordan, who made Brand one of his first phone calls when he was hired, plans on using the power forward in new ways. In addition to post-ups, Jordan wants Brand to get more catches on backdoor cuts and to be a threat from anywhere around 12-15 feet from the basket.

"In some ways, Elton reminds me of Willis Reed," Jordan said. "He's a good shot-blocker, good rebounder, good defender. He can play at the elbow and can play on the box. He's going to have so many different angles and spots on the floor and little jump shots that are going to be there for him. It's going to take him a while to find the niche in the offense. Forwards are going to run pick-and-rolls, though probably not him. Forwards are going to post up, and that's probably going to be a lot of him. He'll find his place."

Brand agrees. He admits that the offense is a little awkward for him right now -- "I'm making cuts I never made in my career," he said -- but feels that eventually Jordan's half-court sets will benefit the whole team.

"We started weeks ago implementing the offense," Brand said. "Last year we were like, 'OK we're here, let's play.' We know how far we can get running and gunning. We can get to the first round. We have enough talent for that. But when it's time to slow it down, we're not going to just throw it inside and wait. Guys in this offense are held accountable. Guys know where they are supposed to be. Last year we didn't have that. At all. This is youth basketball. Everyone touches the ball. You're part of the offense and that makes you want to be a part of the defense."

Said center Jason Smith: "This is a great offense for the big men. You have options. You can play in the low post or you can pop out for a jump shot. Our defense is a little ahead of the offense right now; we know how to guard it more than we know how to run it. But we will get better."

1. Samuel Dalembert just doesn't get it. After spending most of last season complaining about his role, Dalembert was at it again at media day, yapping about his playing time and telling reporters "you cannot produce when you're not out on the floor." And it wasn't as though he was being baited, either: I'm told that the questions posed to Dalembert were of the softball variety. Dalembert still has a warped sense of his own value, which is crazy considering he has never averaged more than 10.7 points in a season.

Jordan says he believes Dalembert can be a big part of the team's success.

"We want Sam to feel comfortable and excited about the season and positive about it," Jordan said. "We can be so good with him being good. Our guys are willing passers. They are unselfish. He will get the ball. When you want to pass and you want to defend, that means you have a good group. That's what wins in the NBA. In the scheme of the offense, the [play] revolves around the center. In a sense, he's the focal point. But everyone has to identify who are our core scorers. It's going to be Andre [Iguodala], Thad [Young], Elton, Lou and then Samuel, probably in that order."

2. There is a logjam in the frontcourt and it's not clear yet who is going to be the odd man out. Brand and Dalembert are the likely starters at power forward and center, respectively, but they will be pushed by Smith (fully recovered from a knee injury that cost him all of last season) and promising second-year player Marreese Speights. Those are four players who believe they deserve significant minutes. The Sixers also have center Primoz Brezec under contract and power forward Stromile Swift in camp. In addition, some around the team believe Young's best position is power forward. Jordan plans to create some minutes up front by playing Iguodala at shooting guard for stretches (thereby shifting Young, a part-time power forward last season, to small forward), but it seems inevitable that someone is going to be grumbling about minutes.

3. The buzzword in Sixers camp is "deprogram," as in the coaching staff trying to erase last year's schemes from the players' memory. That's not to say nothing will be carried over to this season; Jordan intends to keep the pressing defense as a part of the game plan.

The Sixers were stunned when Holiday fell into their lap at No. 17 in the June draft, and after a few days of camp you are starting to see why. Holiday is by far the team's best ball handler and the coaches have raved about his natural defensive skills. The 6-foot-4 Holiday is showing signs that he may be ready for a significant role, a surprising development for a player who in his one season at UCLA was forced to play out of position at shooting guard.

"He's more point than I'd like him to be," Jordan said. "He gets in the lane so well and he could easily go up against his defender and take the shot. But he's looking for a dime and he's looking for a draw-and-kick. He's got a terrific learning curve. He wants to be good and he's doing it the right way. He loves to pass, loves to defend -- I mean loves to defend. We think he's a little bit of a secret weapon."

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