A Surprisingly Unsarcastic Salute: Elton Brand, NBA Model of Consistency

A Surprisingly Unsarcastic Salute: Elton Brand, NBA Model of Consistency

Coming into this NBA season, I think most of us had given up on the $80 million dollar man ever being a productive member of the Philadelphia 76ers. After two erratic, uninspiring, injury-plagued seasons in the city of Brotherly Love, it was easy to view that 80 mil as a sunk cost, spent on a player who was but a shell of the All-Star we thought we had signed. "He's a 13/6 guy, a fourth option," I said to Rev in the pre-season discussion we had about the Liberty Ballers. "And anyone expecting more from Elton Brand in '10-'11 is about to get spiritually posterized."

Well, if EB hasn't made me eat my words just yet, he's at least sliced them up and served them to me on a dinner plate for my eventual consumption. Because through 40 games of the '10-'11 season, Brand very well might be the Sixers' most valuable player.

He's not their best player--that honor still goes to Andre Iguodala, whose refined all-around game could make a contending team very happy at this trade deadline, as long as they don't stare too long and hard at the accompanying bill. And he's not their most important player--that's undoubtedly Jrue Holiday, who despite occasionally putting up frustrating shooting nights like yesterday's 3-14, seems virtually limitless in his skill and potential when he's on his game. But in terms of the guy who's been the team's rock, who's kept them in games night in and night out...I think it's gotta be Brand, doesn't it?

First and perhaps most importantly, out of the 40 games the Sixers have played this season, Elton has been present and accounted for in 39 of them, missing the one game in Toronto just because of a suspension on a foolish flagrant foul in Washington the previous night. Similarly, in only one of those 39 games has he played less than 25 minutes, a blowout loss to the Spurs that was over by the third quarter. Considering how much EB's minutes fluctuated last year under Eddie Jordan, forcing the team to over-extend Marreese Speights in reserve or to go small out of necessity. Merely by staying in games and on the court, Brand is helping the team tremendously, stablizing the power forward position and preventing the Sixers from having to dip too frequently into their already-shallow pool of back-up bigs.

But of course, that wouldn't mean much if Brand wasn't producing in his given minutes. Luckily for us, he's having his best statistical season for the Sixers in just about every meaningful category, averaging nearly 15 points and nine rebounds a game, while shooting at a 52% clip from the field and 78% rate from the line. He's not really scoring more than in the past--his per 36 minute scoring numbers are virtually identical to the past two years--but he's doing it much more efficiently, and consequently, his PER (19.0, a team best) is over three points higher than it was in each of his first two seasons as a Sixer.

The biggest thing for me, though, is just the consistency. His first two years in Philadelphia were frustrating for any number of reasons, but mostly, it was the inconsistency that got under my skin. He'd follow a 23/12 game that made it seem like he was finally finding his groove with a 2-11, seven point effort with more fouls than rebounds that made you wince with every clanged jumper. There's still a little room for variation, but these days with EB you pretty much know what you're getting--14 to 18 points with 8 to 12 rebounds, a steal or two, a block or two, and solid, unremarkable defense. That might not sound like MVP-type numbers, but given the number of erratic young'ns we have on the team this year--Holiday, Turner, Hawes and Meeks, all of whom could be feast or famine on any given night--it's hard to underestimate the benefit of having a guy putting up above-average numbers whose stats you can pencil in before the game just about every night.

Does this begin to justify the $80 million that the Sixers spent on Elton three summers ago, when we thought we were getting a franchise talent that our young, athletic team could congeal around? No, not even close, and to expect Elton to do that with his play at any point is still folly. But as long as we're still stuck with his albatross of a contract for another two-and-a-half seasons, it's good to see him at least producing like a legit NBA veteran starter, proving that all that money wasn't completely wasted. And if the Sixers do end up making the playoffs this year, he's going to be on the shortlist of the biggest reasons why--perhaps even at the very top.

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

Wired to win, Carson Wentz growing frustrated with Eagles' losing

He’s already lost more games as an NFL quarterback than as a college quarterback, and Carson Wentz says he’ll never get used to all the losing.
 
Wentz, who went 20-3 as a college starter, is 5-7 a dozen games into his rookie year.
 
The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and are 2-7 in their last nine.
 
From Seattle through Cincinnati, Wentz lost as many games in a 15-day span as he lost in his entire career as a starter at North Dakota State.
 
“It’s frustrating,” Wentz said Wednesday. “No one likes losing, especially in this business as a quarterback. 
 
“I’m wired to be a winner. I hate losing. But at the same time it doesn’t affect us going forward. I know it doesn’t affect me and I can probably say the same thing for the guys in that locker room. 
 
“We’re going to come in and prepare and be the same win or lose, because I think that’s what it takes to be great and you can’t waver. You can’t change how you approach things. You can’t change how you go about your business, win, lose or draw. 
 
“But at the same time, yeah, without a doubt. We don’t like losing around here.”
 
The Eagles have the third-worst record in the NFL since Week 4, ahead of only the hapless Browns and 49ers. 

They haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention yet, but it sure seems like only a matter of time.
 
Since building a 3-0 record, the Eagles’ only wins have come on Oct. 23 over the Viking and Nov. 13 over the Falcons, both at the Linc.
 
No NFL quarterback has lost more games than Wentz since Week 4. Wentz and Blake Bortles are both 2-7 during that stretch and Sam Bradford is 3-6.
 
North Dakota State went 71-5 with five national championships during Wentz’s five years in Bismarck, North Dakota. As a starter, he was 15-1 as a junior, including the postseason, then went 5-2 during an injury-marred senior year, although for a second straight year he led the Bison to the FCS national title.
 
So he’s not used to losing. Not at all. Not like this.
 
“You get in the locker room and it’s kind of a down feeling,” he said. “A lot of you guys are in the locker room after the game. They’re tough. You don’t like losing, no one does. Especially on the road having to get on the plane or the bus or whatever and come back home. 
 
“But you get over it. You turn on the tape and you learn from it. But right after you watch that tape, it’s on to the next. That’s kind of the nature of this league and that’s how you have to approach it.”

Fortunately, the Eagles have an expert on just this subject in the NovaCare Complex. 
 
Doug Pederson pointed out Wednesday he was a part of some really bad teams, and he said that gives him an ability to relate to Wentz on how to endure all the losing.
 
“In Cleveland we were 3-and-13 (in 2000), and then Philadelphia, my first year, being 5-and-11,” said Pederson, who was also an assistant coach on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012. 
 
“Just kind of leaning back on those experiences and how we fought through. How we fought through adversity. How people try to divide the team or say negative things about players or whatever. We just kind of kept that thing nice and tight. 
 
“So those are things that I can lean back, when you talk about the experience factor. I lean back on those experiences to relay to Carson how we went about our business during those following weeks to come and kept that team together. 
 
“We had great leadership on the team, like we do now. With him, it's just a matter of keeping him grounded, keeping him level headed. He's a leader of this football team, and he doesn't have to do it all himself. That's the beauty of it. There are 10 other guys on offense, and 11 on defense, and special teams that have a big part in this whole process.”
 
Wentz has been going non-stop for almost a year now. From the FCS title game to combine prep to draft prep to OTAs and minicamps to training camp and now heading into Week 14 of the regular season.
 
But he said he doesn’t feel any signs of burn-out or fatigue. Although his numbers have dipped over the past couple months, he said he feels fresh and upbeat going into the final quarter of the season, which begins with the Redskins at the Linc on Sunday.
 
“I feel good,” he said. “I think it comes down to: Do you love it enough? I think if you love the game and you’re around it, you enjoy the grind. You attack it and it’s part of the process. 
 
“For me, there’s no more school to go to during the day. It’s just football all day every day and I love that. It’s been a lot of fun and by no means is it wearing on me in a negative way.”
 
What about his numbers? The stats are not pretty. 
 
Games 1 through 4: 67 percent completion, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 103.5 passer rating, 3-1 record.
 
Games 5 through 8: 61 percent completion, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 72.4 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Games 9 through 12: 61 percent completion, 3 TDs, 6 INTs, 68.3 passer rating, 1-3 record.
 
Wentz shrugs it all off. 
 
“We’re all a work in progress. every quarterback in this league I think would say that,” Wentz said.
 
“You’re never a finished product, myself included. So you’re always analyzing different things you can do, from pocket movement to footwork. You’re always analyzing those things. So we talk about those things but we don’t harp on it. 
 
“Myself and really just everybody, we’ve just got to be better disciplined to things. Whether that’s alignment or pre-snap things, from recognition, from reads, you name it. We just all have to be disciplined. Really just execute better. It starts with me. Control our mistakes and that goes for everybody, myself first and foremost.
 
“We now what we’re capable of, I think everyone in the building does. We just have to get over the hump a little bit here.”

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

Zach Ertz, Rodney McLeod respond to criticism, defend effort after loss to Bengals

During a game after which Eagles head coach Doug Pederson eventually admitted “not everybody” played hard, two individual plays have been scrutinized more than any others this week. 
 
More than anything, two plays from the first quarter have stood out the most from the 32-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sunday. 
 
First, there was Zach Ertz’s non-block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, then there was Jeremy Hill’s short touchdown run where it looks like Rodney McLeod simply let him score.

“I understand all the criticism and stuff,” Ertz said by his locker on Wednesday. “I’m not going to get into the details of every thought I had on that play. I’m focused on giving this city everything I have on each and every play. I promise going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past. 

"I understand how it looks on the film, but I’m not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn’t see on the play and how it impacted the play and vice versa. I’m focused on getting better. I know I’m far from a finished product as a tight end. I’m looking forward to this week against the Redskins.”
 
On the play, Carson Wentz scrambled for a gain of 10 yards and with Burfict sprinting toward the play, Ertz side-stepped to let him through. Head coach Doug Pederson and Wentz have both said a block from Ertz wouldn’t have been a factor on the play because Wentz was going out of bounds. 
 
But it certainly didn’t look good and fans aren’t happy about the perceived lack of effort, which Ertz said he understands. 
 
So does Ertz think he did anything wrong on the play? 
 
“I think I could have maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more to ensure that he didn’t get near Carson by any means,” he said. “But like I said, there were a thousand things going through my mind on that play and there’s a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play and I’m focused on getting better.”
 
While offensive coordinator Frank Reich suggested on Tuesday that he was OK with the non-block from Ertz because it will keep his best tight end healthy for the last quarter of the season, Ertz said the coaching staff hasn’t told him to pick his spots to be physical and claimed his past injuries aren’t affecting the way he’s been playing. 
 
And aside from that one play on Sunday, Ertz thinks he showed his toughness and effort throughout the afternoon. 
 
“If you look at that game, I did give my all,” he said. “That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watch that game for all four quarter, I mean, I’m cramping up, I’m still going out there and battling each and ever play. All I care is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That’s all I’m focused on.”
 
This isn’t the first time Ertz’s effort and toughness have been questioned this season. The lack of yards after the catch and after contact has become a major talking point among fans this season. 
 
But for Rodney McLeod, having his effort questioned is an entirely new experience. McLeod wasn’t a second-round pick like Ertz; McLeod entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 2012. He worked his way to becoming a starter and eventually earning a free agent deal with the Eagles this offseason. 
 
Hard work and effort are what got him here. 
 
“It definitely hurts,” McLeod said about the criticism. “I know what type of player I am. I’m going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work are the things that got me where I am today. That’s what my game is built on. So when somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and others.”
 
McLeod’s explanation for what happened on the first-quarter touchdown run echoed what his defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said on Tuesday. Basically, he thought the play was going somewhere else and by the time he was able to react, he was flat-footed. 
 
He then said he didn’t hit Hill because he thought the running back had already crossed the plane of the goal line and he didn’t want to get flagged. 
 
When fans watch the play, they might see a player who didn’t give it his all on that play. Not McLeod. 
 
“I really don’t see it,” he said. “If you look at any play before then, any game, any practice film, I’m probably one of the guys that’s giving it his all out there for this team and for my teammates. Like I said, I’m a prideful guy. I take pride in effort, hard work, all those things, I think, describe who I am as a player. Looking at that play, I thought it would hit somewhere else. It kind of came through leaky, guy was low, felt like by the time I got over there, it could possibly be a late hit. It’s a tough situation for me to be in.”