So far this season, there have not been many surprises for the Philadelphia 76ers. The team is better than last season's product in terms of quality but is still struggling to convert that into tangible success. There is once again a new coach, which for the Sixers is as much of a surprise as a fan on the field at a Phillies game.
One thing that has been surprising, however, is the play of Elton Brand.
Brand has come on really strong this season. His numbers and minutes are up and for good reason. Doug Collins admitted that Brand is playing more minutes than he originally anticipated, but he has earned them.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 reasons why Elton Brand deserves those major minutes.
10. Brand is as close to the "20-10" player as we are going to get. Sure, he's not averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, but he is coming close on most nights. Brand is tallying a stellar 16.3 points and 7.9 rebounds at this point in the season, and that type of production is clearly something needed on the court. Brand has been able to string together several 20-point performances, and that cannot be taken lightly.
9. He's making an impact on both sides of the floor. Brand has certainly not been a defensive liability on the court this season. He has done a decent job defending power forwards that in the past have used quickness and height to take advantage of Brand. He is also amongst the league leaders in steals, averaging two per game.
8. He's finally healthy. He needs to be on the court because he is finally healthy enough to play major minutes. Brand has missed too many games in his time in Philadelphia not to finally start playing well when he's healthy. The Sixers better get all they can out of Brand while he's healthy—not to say that he'll get injured again, but who knows?
7. He is in great shape. At the request of Collins, Brand hit the gym and dropped a lot of weight going into the season. He looks a lot more lean and trim, and it has undoubtedly made him a more productive player. His quickness has improved, and he can now defend players that before gave him fits. The new physique should lengthen Brand's career by taking some pressure off the legs that have given him issues in the past.
6. He has a coach that believes in him. Brand seems to be playing with a newfound confidence this season, stemming from the support of Collins. Collins made it clear as soon as he was hired that Brand was going to have to play an important role, and that he would get him back to playing like the "old Elton Brand." So far, so good.
5. $16 million. That is roughly what Elton Brand will be making this season, and there is no way that a player pulling in $16 million should be on the bench. That kind of contract dictates that Brand produces. He has not lived up to the money so far in Philadelphia. Maybe this is when he finally pays off.
4. Who else? The Sixers are slightly thin at the power forward spot. Speights has been good in flashes but disappears at times. Young is a solid option but struggles to defend bigger power forwards and has not seen substantial minutes or production at the position so far this season. Other than those two, it seems like the Sixers have to go small either by using Iguodala or Nocioni at the 4-spot in some three-guard sets.
3. Leadership. There is no doubt that the Sixers are a young team. They have a lot of players who simply do not know how to win yet at the NBA level. Not that Brand has any championship rings on his fingers, either, but he has been around the block. He has played All-Star caliber basketball in his career and has been a crucial component on a winning team before. He has to have something to pass down to the younger players.
2. He is one of the most efficient power forwards in the Eastern Conference. No, I am not just making an arbitrary statement here. He currently ranks third amongst Eastern Conference forwards with an efficiency rating of 21.5. The only forwards ahead of him are Josh Smith and LeBron James.
1. He's only improving his trade value. Regardless of better quality play, the Sixers are still losing. They may be a sneak-in playoff team at best, and chances are they are either going to end up back in the lottery or as a first-round exit. Unloading salary and loading up on younger, cheaper talent and draft picks may be the way to go. Brand may be an attractive piece, especially toward the deadline, for a team that is close to competing or perhaps for a contending team looking to add a reliable forward or a fill-in power forward for an injured guy. His contract clearly may be a deterrent, but if a team needs him, they'll go after him.
Brand's production this season has been a surprise for the Sixers. It is good to see a resurgence in his game, but it may not be enough to turn this team around. He may not be a consensus All-Star, but that would not be out of the question. He is currently fifth among East power forwards in scoring, ninth in rebounds, first in steals and second in efficiency. If he holds or improves on those, who knows?
All that is certain is that Brand, based on his current play, deserves to see major minutes.