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.

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).