What Are We Looking for From New Sixers Coach Brett Brown?

What Are We Looking for From New Sixers Coach Brett Brown?

The weird thing about following a team that everyone presumes is tanking next season--and everyone agrees should be following that exact strategy--is that it's hard to get excited about potentially positive developments for the team. Any personnel move that might make this team better had better not make the team that much better for at least another season, lest any slight improvement in team quality result in the Sixers falling out of the draft's top tier, and end up picking ninth in a draft that has eight potential franchise-changers.

So with news of the Sixers' recent hire of Brett Brown of head coach, and their recent press conference to introduce him to the Sixer faithful, it's hard to know exactly what we want from the guy. We don't want him to step in and be so brilliant and creative on both sides of the ball that he somehow leads this team to overachieve their way into playoff contention (and out of the lottery). But of course, we don't want him to be so incompetent that the team turns on him and has to replace him a year or two into his four-year deal.

What do we want out of Brown then, especially in his sure-to-be-rough first season? Let's review.

Building a good relationship with the young players. This is either priority #1 or #1a for Brett Brown, and probably the main reason he was hired from San Antonio, where as director of player development for 2002-2006, he played a part in turning then-unknown late draft picks Manu Ginobii and Tony Parker into the future Hall-of-Famers they are today. There's no saying that he has the magic touch to turn Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel into that kind of All-Star-caliber player, especially not in their respective debut seasons, but if he can at least get on the same page as them, develop trust and respect with them, then that will be undeniably important to the team moving forward. (And if he can get through to more veteran players like Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes and find more effective ways to use them than than Doug Collins ever did, even better.)

A recent analogue here would be head coach Scott Brooks with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brooks was named replacement coach of the Thunder midway through Kevin Durant's sophomore season (and Russell Westbrook's rookie season), and lost a whole lot his first year--22-47 in his incomplete head coaching debut. But he built relationships with Durant and Westbrook, figured out that Westbrook could be trusted at point guard and that playing Durant at shooting guard was ridiculous, and the next season, the team won 50 games. That's a ridiculous turnaround that couldn't possibly be expected from the Sixers--especially since we don't have anything near a Durant on our roster currently--but it's a model of short-term pain to long-term benefit that could be worth seeing through.

Staying on the same page as management and ownership. Any NBA expert will tell you that the most important thing for a franchise's sustained long-term success is having the owner, general manager and coach all on the same page. Given the strenuous vetting process that Sam Hinkie presumably underwent both before being hired by majority owner Josh Harris and before hiring Brett Brown himself--if Hinkie isn't convinced that Brown is his man after the team's comically overextended coaching search this summer, he'll probably never be satisfied with anyone--we can probably assume that the three men are all ordering their cheesesteaks the same way these days, with no confusion or mixed messages between anyone.

In other words, there's little chance that Brown will be overloading on veterans and keeping his young players bench-ridden while Hinkie wants to develop the young guys and not mess with the team's draft standing, or that Brown will let his young players run amok while Harris loses patience with the rampant losing at the Wells Fargo Center and wants him to squeeze out every W possible. All three same to be working from the same playbook for the time being--you can practically taste the synchronicity at the team's pressers--and as long as they stay that way, the team should be headed in a good direction.

Installing logical offensive and defensive schemes. The Spurs were able to maintain consistent success for over a decade partly by having comprehensive strategies on both sides of the ball that allowed Popovich and company to seamlessly slot fungible players in and out of their rotations, with knowledge that all of their non-stars would know their roles and fit into them without overstepping or messing up their continuity. Brown talked about this during his press conference, and about how he'd like to run on offense next season, so next year is a chance to experiment with that and tool it around the personnel at hand, to get to a pace that both team and coach are comfortable with.

Consistency year-to-year is incredibly important in the NBA, so if the team can go into next year already knowing what they want to do on the court, that will give them a sizable advantage over other rebuilding teams still trying to find their way, and will help them create a comprehensive team culture that could, lord willing, eventually get them to a level approaching that of the Spurs. Of course, you need the pieces to do that as well as the concepts, but for now, Brown can only work on the latter, and hopefully Hinkie can help him out with the former over the next few years.

Figuring out specific areas where certain players need to get better. Michael Carter-Williams could really use a Tony Parker-like floater in his offensive arsenal for when defenders give him space after he turns the corner on the pick-and-roll. Thaddeus Young could help the team stay versatile in their lineups by extending his range to the three-point line. Nerlens Noel could probably stand to beef up a little, to avoid getting pushed around so much by stronger post players. Evan Turner should almost definitely stop taking those pull-up jumpers in transition. And Spencer Hawes needs to get a friggin' hand up to contest on defense.

Brett Brown will undoubtedly figure all this out, and more, over the course of the season. Isolating these micro problem areas and instilling in the players the importance of fixing them is a key first step towards rebuilding. A lot of that is on the players to actually put in the necessary work, but it has to start with Brown, and his sterling reputation for player development, to task them with doing so, and getting on them if they don't.

Staying on the good side of the fanbase. Brown seems like a likeable guy, someone who understands winning basketball and who even understand the city of Philadelphia fairly well. The fanbase is frustrated enough with the team's extended mediocrity and knowledgeable enough about the historic upcoming draft class that few if any will really get on Brown if the team loses big next season, so all Brown really has to do to survive his first year in Philly is to not piss people off. Don't snap at media, don't call out the fans, don't make inflammatory comments about any of the players--just keep a low profile, lose with class, and live to fight another season.

Seems obvious, but losing takes different tolls on different sorts of demeanors, and we won't know how Brown will react until we see it first-hand. Better times are ahead for this franchise, but Brett needs to weather the bad ones first, and hopefully without alienating the city in the process.

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Flyers-Oilers 10 observations: Two big rallies and the win streak pushes forward

Ten observations from the Flyers' 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night, their seventh straight win and longest win streak since Dec. 2-15, 2011 (see Instant Replay).

1. And the Flyers (somehow) did it. They won their seventh straight game on a night Steve Mason wasn't his best — five goals allowed for the third time this season — and the team defense was largely atrocious. Michael Raffl scored a beautiful goal for the game-winner at 18:31 of the third period and the Flyers held on. This game had a 1980s feel to it. Lots of scoring. Highly entertaining. And the Flyers found a way to win it. This team is on a roll.

2. From the Flyers' perspective, the most entertaining moment of the opening 20 minutes came with 5:31 left in the first period, when Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning and Oilers center Connor McDavid exchanged words post-whistle in the Philadelphia zone.

Manning broke McDavid's collarbone last season, which forced McDavid to miss a chunk of his rookie season. Nothing more than a little pushing and shoving with some trash talk.

Still, the sequence brought the most excitement in the first period. Speaking of which …

3. For a team that entered on a six-game winning streak, the Flyers' first-period effort was disheartening. They needed more than nine minutes to get their first shot on goal, and had more shots in the final two minutes — five — than they did the first 18 minutes.

No real scoring chances, either, out of the nine first-period shots. Raffl had a nice chance, but Oilers goalie Jonas Gustavsson was able to make the stop.

That's two straight games the Flyers have had poor first periods. Tuesday, they were tied, 1-1, with the Panthers, but faced a 1-0 deficit Thursday. Better first periods are needed.

4. Boy, the Flyers woke up quick after the 10-minute mark of the second period.

Down 2-0, the Flyers scored three goals in one minute and 12 seconds in the second period — 12:31, 13:24 and 13:43 — to get the Wells Fargo Center jumping.

Mark Streit started it off with a power-play goal, followed by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and then Claude Giroux. Bellamare beat Gustavsson with a well-placed wrist shot, which may have been the fourth-liner's best shot of his NHL career, for his first of the year.

Giroux's diving slapper gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead 19 seconds later. The loudest the building may have been this season. It had a playoff atmosphere after Giroux's goal.

5. Let's talk about McDavid. We hear about how fast he is, how skilled he is, how special he is, and he is every bit as advertised. You see it more when you see him in person.

McDavid scored his first power-play goal of the season at 4:35 of the second period, his 12th goal of the campaign. He rocketed home a one-timer from Leon Draisaitl off a rebound.

The 19-year-old kid leads the NHL in scoring and just scored his first PPG. The kid is special. Very special. Side note, McDavid chirped Manning after his PPG.

6. And, of course, McDavid was a factor in another Oilers goal. After the Flyers took momentum with their three goals in just over a minute, McDavid took it right back.

While the Oilers were shorthanded, McDavid was double-teamed in the corner left of Mason by Andrew MacDonald and Bellamare, but he was able to shovel the puck to Mark Letestu, who then found Andrej Sekera for a blast by Mason to make it 3-3 at 16:15 of the second period.

The credit for that goal goes all to McDavid. Tremendous strength by a 19-year-old who was being pinned against the boards by a 30-year-old and 31-year-old, respectively.

Sekera's goal was the seventh shorthanded goal allowed by the Flyers — most in the NHL.

7. I was skeptical of using the Bellemare line against McDavid, but at 5-on-5, Bellemare, Chris VandeVelde and Roman Lyubimov did a decent job against McDavid. Still, the Oilers' captain finished with a goal and assist. The Flyers held McDavid without a breakaway.

The Bellemare line did a tremendous job at 5-on-5.

8. The fans grew restless with the referees in the third period. First, Brayden Schenn put a loose puck into the net, but Gustavsson had covered it and the whistle had blown quickly. And then, McDavid tackled Ivan Provorov on a break. Should have been a penalty.

9. We hear about McDavid all the time, but Edmonton has another young star in Draisaitl, who found himself off the McDavid line against the Flyers.

No problem for the 2014 No. 3 overall pick. Draisaitl had a goal and two assists and displayed an uncanny ability to find open players and get them the puck.

In a game featuring McDavid, it was Draisaitl who stole the show. Wow.

10. It was Goaltender Heritage Night at the Wells Fargo Center, but there were no special ceremonies. The honorees, voted by the fans, were Bernie Parent, Ron Hextall, Pelle Lindberg, Pete Peeters and Brian Boucher. Outside of some interviews during stoppages and a cool, little presentation during introductions, there was nothing to write home about. There was an uptick in goalie jerseys in the crowd.

Personal favorite? A Brian Boucher No. 1 Philadelphia Phantoms sweater.

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

ap-sixers-joel-embiid.jpg
Associated Press

Instant Replay: Sixers 99, Pelicans 88

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS -- The Sixers avoided setting a franchise mark of consecutive road losses with a 99-88 win over the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Prior to Thursday’s victory, the Sixers had lost 23 straight away from Philadelphia. Their last road win was Jan. 20, 2016 against the Magic. They also had dropped 23 consecutive games on the road from March 29 - Dec. 23, 2015. 

The Sixers held Anthony Davis, the NBA’s leading scorer, to 26 points, below his season average of 31.6. They were led by Ersan Ilyasova, who dropped 23 points again after scoring 23 in the Sixers’ last game against the Grizzlies. 

Third-quarter transformation
The Sixers trailed the Pelicans 57-52 at halftime and struck back defensively in the third. They held the Pelicans to 5 for 25 shooting from the field and 2 for 12 from three in the quarter. The Sixers outscored the Pelicans 19-12 in the quarter to regain the lead. 

Inside the box score
• Davis recorded a 26-point, 11-rebound double-double. He shot 8 for 21 from the field, 0 for 2 from three and 10 for 12 from the line. 

• Ilyasova scored 23 points (9 for 16 from the field, 2 for 6 from three, 3 for 4 from the line), eight rebounds and four assists.

• Joel Embiid contributed 14 points (5 for 15 from the field, 0 for 5 from three, 4 for 5 from the line), seven rebounds, two assists, four blocks and three steals in 27 minutes.

• Sergio Rodriguez gave a solid 16 points (6 for 13 from the field, 4 for 8 from three) and eight dimes.

• Nik Stauskas and Dario Saric combined for 27 points off the bench.

• St. Joe’s alum Langston Galloway dropped 19 points (8 for 16 from the field, 3 for 6 from long range) off the Pelicans’ bench.

Trusting the process in New Orleans
It follows Embiid on the road. Fans chanted “trust the process” while he was at the free throw line. The volume was more quiet than at the Wells Fargo Center, but the effort was there nonetheless. 

Injury updates
The Sixers were without Jahlil Okafor, who remained in Philadelphia battling gastroenteritis. Jerryd Bayless also missed the trip because of left wrist soreness. Former Sixer Jrue Holiday sat out with turf toe. 

Up next
The Sixers will return home to Philadelphia to get in some practice before heading back on the road. They will play the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday.