Head Coach Brett Brown Optimistic About Sixers Progress

"You're starting see real examples of how we can get better on the court."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown smiles as time winds down in the second half of a March game against the Sacramento Kings.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown smiles as time winds down in the second half of a March game against the Sacramento Kings.

The Sixers are headed in the right direction.

That statement seems odd on its surface. The Sixers followed up a 19-63 season, head coach Brett Brown‘s first with the club, with an 18-64 record during his second year at the helm. Based on record, the progress doesn’t seem to be there.

Yet when you talk to Brown the progress is, to him, undeniable.

“I wouldn’t be telling the truth if you told me when I accepted this position that this would be where we are at,” Brown said, acknowledging that the first two seasons haven’t gone as he originally expected. “That is not at all delivered as a negative message. I’m excited. It’s [just] taken different turns along the way.

“I think that you’re going to see more of our own. I think that you’re going to see less turnover of the roster,” Brown said, referring to the fact that 43 different players have gotten playing time for the Sixers over Brown’s first two seasons.

“Slowly, we’re starting to grow some things,“ Brown continued. “I think that the skill package that you’re looking at with some of these young players you can point to truly identifiable NBA skills.”

The development of Robert Covington, signed last November from the NBA Development League, has become a big piece for the team going forward. Covington shot 37.4% on 446 three point attempts last season, a key skill for a team that is looking to build its offense around around post scorers.

Nik Stauskas, who the Sixers acquired in a trade this offseason, struggled mightily in his rookie season, averaging just 4.4 points per game while shooting 36.5% from the field. But Stauskas, who was selected 8th overall in the 2014 draft, was placed in a tumultuous Sacramento Kings environment where he played under three different head coaches in his rookie season alone. The success Stauskas had at Michigan, making 44.1% of his 390 three point attempts in college, gives Brown confidence that he can be another key addition for an ailing Sixers offense which was, by almost all accounts, the worst in the league last year.

Covington and Stauskas, along with Isaiah Canaan, acquired at least season’s trade deadline, and Hollis Thompson give Brown a collection of shooters that he’s never enjoyed as a head coach.

Still, any and all optimism surrounding the team rests on the shoulders of the trio of highly touted big men the Sixers have amassed.

The value of Nerlens Noel was on full display during his rookie season, where the Kentucky product was the key reason for the Sixers drastic improvement on the defensive side of the court. The Sixers improved from the 26th ranked defense during Brown’s first season as head coach to 13th last year, as measured by defensive rating, a metric which estimates points allowed after adjusting for the differing paces that teams play at.

On the other end of the court Brown is hoping that the addition of Jahlil Okafor, one of the best pure post scorers, and passers, the college game has seen in quite some time, along with the collection of perimeter shooters the team has slowly developed, will result in improved play.

“You’re starting to see pieces of the puzzle fit [together],” Brown said. “The group that Sam [Hinkie] has assembled, and the shooters that we have put around a legitimate post target like Jahlil [Okafor], you’re starting to be able to point toward real examples of how we can get better on the court.”

The Sixers want to win, something Brown admitted at the end of last season, and something he reiterated yesterday.

“We’re not downplaying the importance of winning. That’s why we all do our job,” Brown said.

Yet, the goal of the team, what truly matters in their eyes, is still player development.

“I don’t believe that [winning] is our complete report card,” Brown continued. “I still don’t believe that our judgment day is here yet. We are still in the [mindset] of identifying and growing people.

“Next year at this time we’re going to be across the river at our own practice facility,” Brown said, seeing light at the end of the tunnel. “When you start talking about [Joel] Embiid and [Dario] Saric, and six draft picks [in the 2016 draft], you get a bit excited that the program is heading in the direction that we all want it to.”

Odds and Ends

* On his starting lineup, Brown is committed to making the front court of Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor work. It sounds like Robert Covington has the inside track to start at small forward. With the shooting guard spot likely to come down to either Nik Stauskas or Hollis Thompson, the biggest camp battle will be for the point guard position. “We’re going to have a fist fight in Stockton,” Brown said about the point guard battle.

* Neither Kendall Marshall nor Tony Wroten, who are both recovering from torn ACLs suffered last January, are expected to be ready for training camp. Brown said they are targeting the end of October for both of them, and he made it sound like Marshall was closer to returning than Wroten is.

* The Sixers have broken ground on their new state-of-the-art practice facility over in Camden, which they anticipate will be ready for the start of the 2016-17 season. They currently practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine on City Avenue, and have their training camp at Stockton University, in Galloway, New Jersey.

* The Sixers expect to head into training camp with six point guards on their training camp roster. Brown says they expect three of them to make the 15-man roster once the regular season begins.

* Former Cleveland Cavaliers big man Zydrunas Ilgauskas visited Joel Embiid in the hospital after Embiid underwent a second surgery to repair the navicular bone in his right foot this summer. Ilgauskas underwent a number of procedures early on in his career, including a bone graft similar to the one Embiid had this summer, to repair the navicular bone in his left foot. Ilgauskas played the final 10 years of his career without further complications in his foot.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.