Brett Brown Appreciative of Increased Talent Level, Experience

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is more comfortable with his team as they wrap up training camp at Stockton University.

The Sixers and head coach Brett Brown have reached a contract extension that will keep Brown in Philadelphia through the 2018-19 season.

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is more comfortable with his team as they wrap up training camp at Stockton University.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Philadelphia 76ers will depart Stockton University, wrapping up their third training camp in Galloway Township, New Jersey, and nearly everybody around the team will tell you this camp feels different.

That is, of course, something that is said nearly every year, for nearly every team. It ranks right up there with adding 15 pounds of muscle and coming into the season in the best shape of their lives as the type of throwaway comments that look nice on paper, but rarely amount to much.

But this year, for this team, it just may be true.

A big part of that is obviously the high-level talent the team has added. There’s no denying how much excitement elite prospects such as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid add, not only for the fans but for the team as well.

For Sixers head coach Brett Brown, the excitement comes from being confident in the team, and the point guards, he has to work with.

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that group was going to be challenged,” Brown said after the Sixers’ first of two practices today. “We really didn’t know who the point guard was. We came in extremely injured. We were trying to make the Nerlens and Jahlil (pairing) work. There really weren’t a lot of veterans around, and you knew it.

“This is now my sixteenth year doing this. You can leave and you can sniff the reality, and that was a frightening drive home,” Brown continued. “That drive home scared me because I felt ‘I know what we have, and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

For Brown, the drive home this year should be much less stressful.

“There’s some talent, there’s point guards, there’s some veterans sprinkled in. How we grow it and play it is still on the table, but to me it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year,” Brown said. “I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton.”

It’s a more nuanced conversation than just going out to get talent, of course. Getting high lottery odds and landing a franchise-altering talent was always a priority for the Sixers, and everybody knew it. The lumps, as hard as they were at the time, put the Sixers in the fortunate position to lay their foundation with extremely high-level prospects such as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Taking somebody other than Joel Embiid in the 2014 draft could have made the 2015-16 season more bearable, but might have hindered their chance at building something great. Not having the most lottery chances in the history of the current lottery format might have led to a future without Ben Simmons. Certainly the lack of established NBA players led the way for guys like Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Jerami Grant, and Richaun Holmes to prove they belong in the NBA.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a middle ground to find, some way to accomplish Hinkie’s objective of landing elite talent while making the present more palatable for Brown. But the franchise is ultimately going to be determined by where those two can carry it, something which Brown acknowledged by saying the direction of the franchise is “One of hope. You see clarity of what the foundation is.”

Still, Brown’s the one who has to deal with the here and now, and with the collection of young talent on the roster he is tasked with developing, sprinkling in a few more players who can help shoulder that responsibility is clearly something he’s appreciative of.

“Sergio (Rodriguez) and Gerald (Henderson) and Jerryd (Bayless), and you take those three veterans along with Elton (Brand), those voices matter. They matter. They’re fantastic to have around,” Brown said. “We’re trying to help grow all these young guys and it certainly helps when it’s just not always coming from me.”

That sentiment is shared by Nerlens Noel, one of two players (along with Hollis Thompson) who has been here during the entire rebuild.

“There’s a lot more talent on this team. We have guards that are able to facilitate and hit a shot, wings that are long and able to defend. I think we have more of an actual team,” Noel said.

For the third day in a row the Sixers finished their morning session with a 5-on-5 game. After a pull-up jump shot by Dario Saric put his team up two with 3.5 seconds remaining Brown called a timeout to draw up a final play. Until new Sixer Sergio Rodriguez, who has consistently been one of the best performers in camp, interrupted Brown and commanded the huddle, that is.

“I’m drawing up something and Sergio (Rodriguez) said ‘Hey coach, they’ve been switching this. I think Ben (Simmons) can just roll it and seal him.’ And I said let’s do it. And he delivered,” Brown said, discussing an out of bounds play that resulted in two Simmons free-throws. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace somebody that has great command from that position.”

(Simmons missed the first free-throw, resulting in an intentional miss on the second, but the play itself was still effective).

“We have so many young players that we need to develop, need to learn how to win, so we have to be pretty focused during games to get everybody in their spots and try to get everybody involved in the game,” Rodriguez said. “We have a huge responsibility.”

Brown is a stickler on the defensive end, with every strategy, every rotation, every switch designed out and planned in advance. “This is how we guard a post (up), a pick and roll, a pindown (screen), whatever. It doesn’t change,” Brown said about his defense. “It’s very accountable.”

“It’s not so much that with offense. I want these guys having freedom, and a pace, and a flair, and figuring each other out. We are very much now in an organic stage where stuff is just sort of organically grown,” Brown said about his offense. “There’s a freedom that I want them playing with where they’re loose and they know they can take risks.”

That was problematic in years past, where the team was seriously lacking in both individual offensive talent and creativity. This year, with more creative passers like Ben Simmons, Sergio Rodriguez, and Dario Saric, along with Joel Embiid’s potential to attract attention down low and more experienced perimeter players who have enough experience that Brown feels comfortable relying on them, the coach is much more confident in their ability to compete.

Injury Update

Neither Joel Embiid or Jahlil Okafor scrimmaged today, although both are expected to do so tomorrow. They were held out today to keep their workload down, and both went through conditioning and shooting drills in place of scrimmaging. Free agent guard Gerald Henderson was also kept out for rest. Jerryd Bayless was held out of the scrimmage due to a sore wrist, and is listed as day-to-day.

Ben Simmons impresses new teammates

Any time you add the #1 pick in the draft, expectations are sure to be high. For some, those expectations can be difficult to match from day one as they adjust to the speed, size, and physicality of the NBA.

That hasn’t been the case for Ben Simmons so far in the Sixers camp, something which was evident as his squad ran much of their late-game offense through him. It was also evident based on how his new teammates talked about his skill level.

“You can play him at the 4 spot, he can bang with the bigs, he rebounds the ball great. And then obviously what everyone knows is his ability to pass the ball and push the ball in transition,” Sixers shooting guard Nik Stauskas said. “If you see some of the passes that he’s made here in practice it’s unbelievable.”

“Today was my first time playing with Ben (Simmons), and it’s great,” said Nerlens Noel, one-third of the Sixers’ talented (and perhaps problematic) center trio. “Being a point forward type, that opens up a lot of things for him to be able to (do) for his teammates. I think we complement each other very well.”

Special guest

Brett Brown likes to bring in guests to help get through to his young team. For example, Brown had famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson speak to the Sixers last spring.

That tradition continued in training camp this week. After meeting with Hollywood star (and part owner) Will Smith earlier in the week Brown had the team meet with former Navy SEAL commander Mark McGinnis last night.

“The stories that he can tell are breathtaking,” Brown said about McGinnis, who had a 17-year career as a Navy SEAL. “To carry over some of those things today is something that we talked about, to not just let a speaker talk and then leave.”

Since leaving the Navy McGinnis has been a speaker for SEAL Leadership. McGinnis is also the Managing Director of the SEAL Legacy Foundation.

Quote of the day

Nerlens Noel, on Sergio Rodriguez being a leader.

“Sergio’s great. He’s a real vocal leader. Even with that little accent he has, he makes it work.”


A couple of video clips from today’s practice.


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