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.

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

Villanova pushes past Creighton despite exhaustion before off week

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, PA. – Jay Wright finally admitted what we could all see.

The Wildcats are gassed.

No. 2 Villanova beat No. 23 Creighton, 79-63, Saturday at the Pavilion to clinch the Big East Conference regular-season title outright (see Instant Replay).

The Wildcats are 27-3 and 14-3 in the conference, but the last couple weeks their lack of depth has shown.

With Omari Spellman ruled ineligible before the season by the NCAA, Phil Booth out since November with lingering knee pain and Darryl Reynolds out the last five games with a rib injury, Wright has essentially been limited to five starters, freshman Dante DiVincenzo off the bench and a few minutes a night from freshman Dylan Painter.

It's taken a significant toll on the six guys in the rotation. 

Big late leads have dwindled or, in the case of Wednesday’s game against Butler, disappeared. Three-pointers have front-rimmed. Defensive assignments have been missed.

Through it all, Wright refused to admit fatigue was an issue.

Now, with the Wildcats securely the top seed in next month’s conference tournament, Wright is being honest about his team.

They’re exhausted.

“I know you guys have asked a lot, 'Do I think we’re getting worn down with seven guys, 6 1/2 guys,' and I said I don’t think so, I think we can do it,” Wright said Saturday after the Senior Day win over Creighton.

“I gotta answer your question, but it just doesn’t do us any good saying we’re worn out. It’s not an excuse. Other teams have things to deal with. I get we weren’t pretty, we haven’t been pretty, today wasn’t pretty. But I think it just speaks to the leadership of these seniors and I think it speaks to the character of these seniors (that they got through it).

“Are they tired? Yeah. Are they worn down some? Yeah. But it doesn’t matter. Other teams got stuff too. It’s not the reason you lose. It can’t be the reason you lose. Maybe you were tired and you didn’t concentrate or we didn’t defend or we didn’t rebound. That’s what happened and that’s the way we look at it.

“I wasn’t trying to BS you, I was just saying that whether you’re tired or not doesn’t matter, you’ve got to get it done, and we got it done. I’m so proud of them and it’s senior leadership. It’s talented players and senior leadership.”

Villanova now has a week off before an essentially meaningless game next Saturday at Georgetown.

It’ll be the Wildcats’ first extended break since the season began.

“They haven’t had an off week because they played Virginia (two weeks ago in a non-conference game), and now they get it and a chance to get their legs back,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“It’s a long season and when you don’t really have a chance to catch your breath, especially because he’s riding six or seven guys pretty hard right now? I’m sure this week off will do them some good.”

Sophomore transfer Eric Paschall had a career day Saturday, with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. Josh Hart added 16 points and eight boards, Kris Jenkins overcame another off shooting night from three (1 for 7) to record 15 points, four boards and three assists, and Mikal Bridges had 11 points and eight rebounds. DiVincenzo and Jalen Brunson each scored nine points. 

The next meaningful game Villanova plays will be March 9 in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament in New York.

Now it’s time to rest. And heal.

“It’s going to be good for us,” Jenkins said. “We get a couple days off. We’ll still watch film, still learn, still get better, but physically we need a couple days to regroup and get ready for Georgetown and then the Big East tournament.

“Georgetown is first, but we really do need this break.”

On Saturday, Villanova built an 11-point lead, gave it all away, fell behind, traded off seven second-half lead changes, then went on a 16-4 run midway through the second half to finally put away the Bluejays.

With the threes not falling, the Wildcats focused on attacking the rim and scoring in the post in the second half.

Jenkins in particular had an unusual game. He stopped shooting treys and made 5 of 8 shots from inside the arc. That’s the second-most two-pointers he’s ever made and the most he’s ever attempted.

“Just playing off my teammates and adjusting to how teams play me,” said Jenkins, shooting just 30 percent from three the last 10 games.

“They really take away threes and try not to let me get any clean catches so always being aggressive and trying to make the right play.”

For a tired team, backing off the threes was huge.

Villanova outscored Creighton 36-18 over the last 14 minutes after Creighton took its biggest lead – two points at 43-41.

Now comes rest.

“It’s big for these guys,” Wright said. “In my mind, we just had to get to today. We just gotta get through it without getting somebody else hurt and without just being dead.

“Because we’re going to get time off. We’re going to take Sunday off, we’re going to have a light day Monday, and then we’re going to take Tuesday off, because these guys really need the rest. So this is perfect timing for us.”