Elton Brand has a lot to prove after missing all but eight games with an Achilles injury last year. But the 76ers were a pretty good team coming down the stretch before they signed him. Coach Mo Cheeks does it his way, he has a rapport with his players and they work their butts off for him. Brand fits right into that situation as well as their up-tempo style. He's not the kind of guy that is going to slow things down by fighting for deep post position and pounding the ball. He'll put it on the floor to create his jump shot, and the pick-and-roll with Andre Miller is going to be terrific because he can either pop the jump shot or roll. Even though he's undersized for a power forward, Brand has a long reach and big hands and he does affect shots. He plays hard from the opening tip, and he's a good teammate. This was a great addition for them -- if he's healthy.
Miller has bounced from team to team, but everywhere he's been he has produced. He seems to have a good relationship with Cheeks, who lets Miller run the show. Cheeks has his blueprint but he lets Miller adjust on the fly. His lack of shooting range isn't such a problem because they play so fast. I remember all of the questions when they got him for Allen Iverson, but they're moving forward and people are jumping on the bandwagon. I don't know how much longer Miller can play at this level -- he's 32, and even though he doesn't rely on athleticism, there's going to be a need to curtail the era of the 35-to-36-year-old point guard because it's so hard to stay in front of the younger and quicker players on the perimeter defensively.
Maybe Lou Williams could take over for Miller eventually, but right now it's hard to imagine him being a true point guard. In the open floor, he's got a lot of good qualities and he can handle the ball, but the bottom line is that he is looking for his own shot first.
The arrival of Brand turns Andre Iguodala into the No. 2 guy on the team, and rightfully so. He's not going to be a superstar. But I like the things he does, and he's going to continue improving. He attacks the basket, handles the ball can make plays, scores off the dribble and fills the lane. He also defends like a monster with incredible athleticism and ball pressure and gets into the passing lane for the deflections and steals that create transition points for their offense. But he can't be a No. 1 star because he isn't a great shooter. The fact is there just aren't that many superstars. People throw the term around like it's attainable, but it's a rare thing in our league to actually become one.
With a scorer like Brand pairing up with him, center Sam Dalembert can and should concentrate more on the defensive end. I think Brand will have a steadying influence. Dalembert can have a good year by focusing on rebounding and blocking shots. Last year he looked like he tried to expand his game beyond his means offensively. He needs to play a simple and effective game.
Shooting is a problem with this team for sure. Yet I think turning Thaddeus Young into a small forward could be OK. He needs to improve his shooting, but on the other hand his touches are going to be limited playing alongside Brand and Iguodala. Like Dalembert, he's not going to have to be a scorer. Young is going to have to defend his position, and at 6-8 he joins Iguodala to give them size and length guarding the perimeter. He can fill the wing and score on the break opportunities that come his way. They won't be looking for him coming off screens for jump shots a lot. But he can keep the defense honest by cutting or driving it to the rim when they're helping off him.
Reggie Evans is a no-nonsense guy who rebounds and works hard. He can't shoot but he knows it. He's undersized as can be, but he's one of those guys who is with you 100 percent.
They're going to score off their junk defenses, by trapping the ball in half-court traps and that kind of thing to push the tempo and try to prevent opponents from pounding the ball inside. Mo likes that up-and-down game. But I just don't see them being able to win a championship as they're composed right now. Maybe if Young becomes as good as Iguodala is, and if Dalembert were to have an incredible year playing to his style, then it would be possible. But I don't see them having enough shooting or depth to be able to pull it off.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.