A common misconception has come about in the sports world: if you win, you are gifted the headlines. While winning does serve as a spark plug for mauls by the media, struggling franchises can always find a way to wiggle themselves into the national spotlight.
Just look at the Sixers.
For a team with a .226 winning percentage over the past two seasons, the Sixers surprisingly conduct team operations with a fog of rumors, chatter, and buzz sifting through daily. For example, GM Sam Hinkie’s intriguing mix of basketball prowess and analytics aptitude have swiveled the heads of many sports media outlets. Might as well throw in that Joel Embiid’s foot has been the greatest medical mystery to ever strike Philadelphia, Nerlens Noel’s defensive progression has been staggering and, oh yes, social media’s interpretation of ‘tanking’ has brought the Sixers organizational mindset to front-and-center stage.
Through all of the attention the Sixers are seeming to garner, however, there is one man of whom I believe hasn’t received nearly as much praise as he should: head coach Brett Brown.
I believe an old saying goes “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish, and you will feed him for the rest of his life.” Coach Brown was given little to nothing to work with two years ago when starting his tenure in Philadelphia: Sam Hinkie made it clear that the Sixers were in a full-rebuild mode. Speaking in terms of our analogy, Brown knew how to fish, but unfortunately he had no boat, no bait, and, heck, he didn’t even have a fishing rod. Therefore, I believe it is quite narrow-minded when folks examine Brett Brown’s first two seasons in Philly with a lens fogged by only 37 combined total wins. Instead, Sixers fans should realize that Brett Brown brings solid attributes to the team and he has shown no sign of easing up on these said strengths.
Those blinded by losing might ask, “What, in fact, does Brett Brown bring to the Sixers and why is he a good fit?”
A tag that has always followed former Australian NBL coach Brett Brown throughout his career is his excellence in player development. For a team like the Sixers, who are investing in a small group of young talent for future success, a man who specializes in player development is crucial. His astuteness could be seen clearest in the play of Nerlens Noel last season. Nerlens, like any young player kicking off their career with an injury, started off somewhat shaky. As the campaign progressed, however, opponents started to fear what the Kentucky product could bring to the table. With the help of Coach Brown, Nerlens was able to turn one of his biggest weaknesses (free throw shooting) into a strength. According to ESPN stats and Info, Nerlens shot about 33% from the line in October but when Feburary rolled around, Noel shot at a 75% clip. Brown has also repeatedly been yearning to let Nerlens take chances on both sides of the ball. Post all-star break, Nerlens stuffed the blocks and steals departments of his stat-line and even ventured to take more jump shots outside of the paint, an aspect Brown and the coaching staff will continue to mold into Noel’s game as Jahlil Okafor and eventually Joel Embiid begin to clog up the middle. Brown’s keen eye for player development didn’t just stop at Noel’s free throw shooting and confidence level: the Aussie did wonders in developing a man who didn’t take the court once last season, Joel Embiid. A thin prospect drafted out of Kansas, Embiid’s body was due for a transformation and Brett Brown was up to the task. Although rumors swirled that Embiid was climbing into the ‘overweight’ category, the truth of his physique eventually was unveiled and the rest of the association began to take notice of the muscle mass put on by the Cameroonian. The work put into the 7-foot star came to its height when a video was recorded of Embiid doing a between-the-legs dunk before a late regular season game. That video, including all types of media, almost always showed Embiid’s shirt drenched in sweat, with none other than Brett Brown standing close by.
It’s a safe bet to suggest that Brown’s interest in player development may have been cultivated mostly due to his 11-year stint under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. Therefore, his impressive track record under one of the greatest coaches in NBA history is another big bonus that was sat in the lap of South Philly two seasons ago. In my eyes, choosing a coach who was only an assistant but still a member of such a first-class organization like the Spurs was the best choice the Sixers could have made. For example, if Brett Brown were to be the head coach of an NBA team with that much success and then found his way into Philadelphia, an inflated ego and heightened sense of winning would have been cancerous to the locker room. As a former assistant, you get the feeling that Brett Brown worked his way up the coaching ranks and he is now out to prove he can be his own unique NBA success story, while still incorporating many aspects of Popovich’s tutelage. Add in the fact that Brett Brown has been around the game for many years (including playing under Rick Pitino in college), and it’s plain to see that Brett Brown has quite the encyclopedia of basketball experience stored away in his brain.
Experience in coaching can yield itself in two opposite ways. For some coaches, experience can lead to a “no tolerance” attitude, where everything must be done your way and if something doesn’t follow according to plan, the situation can become ugly. Other experienced coaches, and this fits the persona of Brett Brown much better, are wise beyond their years and are able to adapt to any situation, using patience and optimism as crucial footsteps towards ultimate success. Through two years of constant losing, Coach Brown has been able to keep his cool and stay patient: Coach Brown is “trusting the process”. Although the occasional deflated news conference has come about for Brown in the past, for the most part he has always uttered a mantra similar to “stay the course” with a passion that is unmatched. For a young team with confidence as fragile as glass, this attitude displayed by the Aussie is quite beneficial.
So fans, although 37 wins over two seasons is in no way reaching the heights Philly basketball ought to ascend to, it is important to observe Brett Brown’s two-year coaching blip under circumstance. Be in awe of the Aussie.