The Elton Brand story — the extent to which it would be strange, or sad, or cathartic for Clips fans to see him as an ‘x’ instead of an ‘o’ on the court — got buried underneath the Randolph acquisition on Friday. Before the fireworks, Clips Nation posted a nice meditation early Friday morning, writing “when I look at what I wrote back in July, I just don’t have that much more to say. I still feel pretty much the same.” Agreed. What Steve Said.
It always surprises me how quickly the Kübler-Ross model is accelerated in sports. Denial and Anger occur spectacularly — especially now that we have a 24-hour interactive platform for those stages. It was certainly that way with Brand. But in sports, there isn’t a lot of time for Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Even before the Randolph stuff started percolating yesterday morning, the Brand narrative had started to grow stale for most Clippers fans. Yes, the respective versions of what or what didn’t transpired were revisited in the press, but they didn’t stoke much response or even much passing interest from the Naçion. Maybe that was a product of the trade, or maybe it was because the first “reunion” was on safe ground for Brand in Philadelphia. Either way, the story seemed almost like a manufactured event, even though its origin was quite real.
I’ll fess up: I’ve been experiencing a little Eltonfreude watching the Sixers scuttle though the early part of their schedule. I certainly don’t want to witness Brand fail miserably, and it would be tragic to see him lose his basic and most admirable traits as a player — effort, efficiency, precision. But my irrational side feels that mediocrity in Philadelphia would be appropriate retribution for the way he departed Los Angeles. There wouldn’t be any grand scandal in Philly, nor would the notorious Philadelphia fans turn their vicious scorn on Elton. Instead, Brand’s career in Philadelphia would result in the exact same kind of anonymity he was saddled with as a Clipper.
That’s exactly what’s been happening back East, and it’s brought to the surface an important part of the Brand conversation that got lost in the tumult of July:
Is the 2008-2013 Elton Brand worth 5 years and $82 million?
We’ve always been aware that Elton’s torn Achilles might prevent him from returning to his 2005-06 glory, and that power forwards tend to atrophy more quickly as players than wing guys. But most Clipper fans sublimated those fears in any discussion of Elton’s longterm worth to the franchise. Sure, Elton might see his FGAs drop from the high-teens to the low-teens over the course of his new contract, but like any diligent aging ballplayer, he’d develop new tricks: He’d expand that 15-footer out to 20 feet. And even though his natural shooting stroke would make it difficult for him, maybe Elton could learn to shoot the 3PA like Charles Barkley!
None of that is happening for Elton in Philadelphia. Know what he’s shooting from the field? .428. Know how many times a night he’s getting to the line? 4.4 FTAs/game. His previous career low was 5.7 in 2002-03. Prior to the injury, Elton never averaged fewer than three offensive rebounds per game. This season, that number is 2.7.
But forget his stats. We had a chance to see his game last night. How does he look?
- Dribble-Drive Jumper: [1st, 3:32] This is where Elton’s dropoff is most noticeable. Miller gets the ball to Brand at the right elbow. The Clippers go with single coverage against Elton with Marcus Camby. EB recognizes he should be able to take Camby off the dribble and, given Marcus’ length, that’s probably the smartest course of action. Elton dribbles with his right, then spins back left. As Brand lands on both feet about 10 feet from the basket, he bends he knees to elevate for the jumper over Camby, but he just doesn’t have the same lift. The shot misses. At [2nd, 5:50], he has an easier matchup against Paul Davis. The last drive started at the elbow, this one begins out on the right wing. Elton back Paul in with his left shoulder. But, again, Elton can’t quite get the same lift on his elevationas years’ past on his baseline jumper. The shot is short.
- Spotting Up at the Foul Line: [3rd, 11:16] With Camby sagging, Brand spots up at the foul line where Miller finds him. Wide open, Brand launches an uncontested jumper at the free throw line. At [3rd, 8:58] Miller and Brand run a S/R that gets Elton the same exact shot — an uncontested jumper at the FT line. As a side note in the Adventures in Marcus Camby Defending the S/R, Camby unwisely chooses to double Andre Miller on this set 18 feet away from the basket rather than stay on Brand. Brand will not convert another FG from the floor until the game’s final minute.
- Elbow Jumper: [1st, 11:25] This is Elton’s home, a place where he’s probably drained 70% when uncontested over the course of his career. With Camby sagging on an inbounds play underneath, Elton pops out to the left elbow. Andre Iguodala finds him, but Elton misses. At [1st, 6:05] he gets open at the right elbow when Camby doubles Miller off the screen and roll. This time, Elton drains the shot.
- Underneath: Elton’s beastliness just isn’t the same in the scrum beneath the hoop. Brand converts 1 FG off an offensive rebound, at [1st, 2:36]. When Marcus Camby moves over to help on a driving Andre Iguodala [not a bad decision here because Elton is way out on the left wing cut off from the play], Elton manages to sneak in along the baseline to be in position for the miss, which he lays back up and in. Brand profits more from veteran intuition than his brute force. At [2nd, 0:17], Brand gets his layup attempt blocked by Chris Kaman after getting position on the right block in a transition opportunity. At [3rd, 2:29], Brand is working to get himself position down low against Camby. He’s not making a lot of progress. But the play shifts sides and Camby leaves EB on the weak side to help on a driving Iguodala. Brand wisely makes a cut underneath. Iguodala finds him on the right block. Three seasons ago, Brand had the springs and strength to convert this play into a FGM. Here, though, he can’t quite regain his footing on the block. The Clipper bigs smother him. EB never really gets a shot off, but works himself a trip to the line, where he sinks both shots. There’s a similar possession at [4th, 7:44] where Brand is again trying to get himself some space on the weak side, while Thad Young controls the ball on the perimeter. Brand can’t get anything against Brian Skinner, though. Brand bobbles the pass, and gets bailed out by Skinner. He goes to the line where he makes 1 of 2.
You could argue that nothing about Brand’s 6-18 night matters except for the last 1-1 at [4th, 0:57] when Elton drains a right-handed jumper we’ve seen him make a million times from 15 feet on the left side. What’s frustrating about this play is Camby. He makes a great play to almost strip Iguodala of the ball, but once Iguodala recovers, Marcus sort of lingers in the paint rather than moving to cover Elton at the spot where EB ultimately nails the jumper. Wide open, Elton demonstratively calls for the ball. This time, the form is true. Sixers by one.
Would love to hear your impressions of watching Elton in that vintage Sixers’ gear.