When folks around the NBA think of Elton Brand, it usually isnt because they are conjuring thoughts on his defensive prowess. Sure, across the board they talk about Brands toughness as well as for as nasty as he is on the floor, he is 10 times the gentleman off it.
Truth is Elton Brand and the term consummate professional are nearly synonymous.
Yet with seven games left in the season, it would take a catastrophe to move Brand off the top of the charts of a handful of advanced metrics that measure defense. Notably, Brand is ninth in defensive win shares, which measures the number of wins a player contributes with his defense.
More impressive, Brand is third overall in the NBA in defensive rating behind only Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard. Perhaps a more subjective statistic than win shares, defensive rating is an estimate of the player's points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. In that category Brands 94.8 is slightly behind Howard at 94.7 and Garnett at 94.3.
Even though Brand rates alongside two players undoubtedly marked for the NBAs All-Defensive team, there is very little in the way of talk about the Sixers power forward for such a reward. In fact, when folks talk about defense, Brands name never enters the conversation at all.
What makes that so interesting is that Brand is the top statistical defender for the team that leads the NBA in several major defensive categories, including opponents scoring. It would only seem logical that Brand would be in the conversation as an All-Defensive performer this season, but he is not.
Not at all.
For us to be where we are defensively, a big part of that is can you defend the paint and can you rebound the ball, coach Doug Collins said. And E.B. is a big part of that for us.
It could be that some of the criteria for one to get on the All-Defensive team is to post solid offensive stats as well as gaudy numbers in the rebounds and blocks categories. In his younger days Brand was a 25 and 10 player who routinely took 20 shots a night, every night. Yet in 13 NBA seasons, Brand has topped 11 rebounds per game just twice and never finished in the top 10 for rebounds in a season.
Meanwhile, Brand never got more than 2.5 blocks per game over a full season and rated in the top five in that statistic once during his career. This season, he is 13th in the NBA with 1.6 blocks per game. Mix that in with his 10.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game and the fact that his game is more blue collar than the style that makes Sports Center, and Brand isnt going to generate a lot of buzz with his D.
That doesnt mean he isnt effective on the defensive end of the floor, though.
He protects the rim, but he doesnt block a lot of shots. Yet, hes matched up with Blake Griffin and hes been matched up with Dwight Howard and blocked some of his shots, said veteran Tony Battie, the only player on the Sixers older (36 to 33) and with more experience (14 seasons to 13) than Brand. Hes not afraid to foul anybody. Guys will look at him and say, You know what, Im not going to be able to take the ball in there and dunk it on Elton, because hes going to foul me.
An example of Brand using his toughness to wield some defense came last Tuesday in New Jersey when the Nets All-Star Deron Williams went hard to the basket looking to throw down a dunk and get his teammates fired up. Its a tactic that Williams has used before and it often works out well for the Nets point guard.
However, when Williams went up in the air at the rim, he was met mid flight by Brand whos body and forearm sent the guard back to earth with authority. Sure, it was a foul and Williams made the shots, but he didnt try to go after the rim like that anymore.
He plays pretty good individual, man-on-man defense and off the ball, hes a physical presence, Battie said. Hes pretty big and sometimes thats all that it takes to discourage a guy from driving your way.
Interestingly, Brand has been such a defensive standout even though he usually has to guard bigger players. Hes listed at 6-foot-8 and as a power forward, but often is matched up against taller men as well as centers.
Thats where something more important than toughness comes in to play.
Elton is only 6-8, but he has the wingspan and the heart of a seven-footer, Battie said.
Actually, when asked about Brands defense and why he hasnt garnered any push for an spot on the All-Defense teams, the first trait coach Doug Collins pointed to were Brands long arms and big heart.
Indeed, heart is an intangible that no metric could ever measure.
He has great heart, Collins said. Hes undersized, but he has long arms and hes strong. He also has great timing.
Brand seems to have bad timing when it comes to personal accolades. Sure, hes been to a couple of All-Star games and he was the Rookie of the Year in 2000, but if the top team in defense in the NBA is going to place anyone on the All-Defensive teams, it will be Andre Iguodala. Yeah, Iguodala might be the best perimeter defender in the league, but his defensive rating is only slightly better than Marcus Camby and Evan Turner. Brand, conversely, ranks higher in all categories than the Knicks Tyson Chandler, who has been getting some serious pub as a potential Defensive Player of the Year.
Who knows, maybe Brand has scared away personal awards like he has so many offensive players looking to make a move to the basket.
E-mail John R. Finger at firstname.lastname@example.org