I can say without hesitation that Elton Brand is having his best season as a Philadelphia 76er.

Brand missed all but eight games of his contract year with the Clippers but had boasted four consecutive 20 point seasons, all with a franchise stuck in a black hole.  Brand’s signing in the summer of 2008 was known as the top acquisition, as the scoring forward would be teaming up with Andre Miller and Andre Iguodala.

Then a devastating shoulder injury would limit Brand to just 29 games played and last season during the complete mess that was the Eddie Jordan era, the forward averaged 13.1 points and 6.1 boards.  Easily the worst season of his career.  Frustrated Sixer fans were openly booing the 80-million dollar man and various blogs were of full rants describing how Brand’s poor play and contract will set this franchise back for years.

Now let’s enter the current situation.  Brand’s averaging 15.2 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, both tops for a team (who barring any unforeseen late season collapse) that will be playing games in late April.  Those two serious injuries in the middle of Brand’s career has morphed his game from a bulldog-scrappy power forward to becoming a finesse player with smarts.

True Hoop affiliate Hoop Data has some excellent numbers on Brand’s shot location, which backs up my claim on how Brand has altered his approach on offense.  Brand’s attempts around the rim are at an all-time low, while his 3-15 foot range shots are at an all-time high.  In particular, Brand has become exceedingly reliable from the 10-15 foot range, where he’s canning 48.2 percent of his shots.  Just to compare, MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki’s mid-range percentage is only slightly above Brand’s.

You get it by now. Brand’s been a catalyst for the vast improvement of the Sixers.  Even defensively the 31-year-old bought into Collins’ system, illustrating his humbleness and commitment to teamwork.  So why am I wasting time telling you things you’ve already noticed about Brand this season?  Because there is something wrong Philadelphia’s ‘best player’.  EB has pulled a Harry Houdini in nearly every fourth quarter, disappearing when this young team needs him the most.

I’ve picked out some of the biggest games in February and contests in 2011 that went down to the wire for the Sixers to exemplify my point that Elton Brand has been as ineffective when other franchises ‘best players’ are willing their team to wins.

Date             Outcome        4th Q FG            Pts              Rebs        Notes

3/01 – DAL

L 101-93

1/3 2 4 Mav’s size killed

L 102-91

0/0 1 3 76ers launched 3’s
2/11- SAS

W 77-71

2/3 4 2 Big Bucket late

L 99-95

0/1 0 1 Irrelevant
1/20- @CHA

L 100-97

1/3 2 6  
1/19- @ORL

L 99-98 (OT)

0/2 0 2 Battie plays over EB in clutch
1/17- CHA

W 96-92 (OT)

1/4 2 2  
1/14 – MIL

W 95-94

0/2 0 3  


Before I analyze Brand’s disappearing act I want to point out that his fourth quarter presence against the Knicks last month sparked one of the best wins of the season.  That’s bluntly been one of the only times this year where Brand has strapped this young team on his back in crunch time.

I believe that part of Brand’s renaissance as a forward is hurting the Sixers in the fourth quarter.  He’s barely getting to the free throw line, averaging just 3.6 attempts throughout the entire season.  Brand’s not getting the ball enough, but he’s not demanding the ball either.  In these eight key games I’ve charted, Brand’s only attempting 2.25 shots in the fourth.  That number equates to about 18 percent of his total attempts.  The Sixers need their best player to infiltrate the opposition’s paint with the basketball late in games, leading to fouls or open passes when defenders collapse on him.

Teams are starting to notice that Brand’s relevance in the fourth is trivial.  Foes are pushing Brand to where he’s now comfortable — the mid-range — which entirely affects the Sixers strategy because Brand is frequently Philly’s center in the fourth.  

Am I asking Brand to shoot eight times in the fourth quarter?  Actually, why not?  A repeated theme on this website has been the chaos and failure that has comes at the end of close games for the Sixers.

With Lou’s recent struggles and Dre’s proven inability to hit a big shot, I think it would benefit this team in the long run to experiment with Elton Brand as the top option during the fourth quarter and in the clutch.

I have faith in Doug Collins overall.  There’s no denying that he has worked miracles this year.  Still, I firmly believe that he needs to make a bigger effort to get EB the ball in the fourth and then let the big fella bring us home in clutch time.  This change in strategy will work because Brand will either hit the big shot or at least get to the free throw line. 

One thing is for sure, he won’t settle for an off-balance runner or a contested 3-point attempt.

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