I believe it was mentioned during last night’s preseason broadcast, and I want to mention it again: Elton Brand has never played a full NBA season. Granted, this is deceiving – he’s played 80 or more games five times, just never the full 82. And in a shortened 66 game season, I don’t expect this trend to continue. Actually, scratch that: I don’t want Elton Brand to play every game.
Elton Brand had a good season for the Sixers last season, leading the team in points, rebounds, and blocked shots. Not too bad for a guy who, in his previous three seasons, produced almost nothing, whether due to injuries or a lack of motivation to actually do well. While a far cry from his prime, this production led me to naming him the team MVP, if only because he was the most irreplaceable player on the team. A true big that can defend other bigs and produce otherwise is certainly a valuable thing. Ask Nene or Marc Gasol about this.
Unfortunately for Sixers fans, Brand is the only Sixer who produces and offers resistance on the other end. If you dream long enough, Spencer Hawes may be able to replace him a bit. But then you wake up and see he hasn’t. Thaddeus Young provides more scoring than Brand but provides less on the boards and even a smaller amount defensive. Nik Vucevic is an unknown quantity who doesn’t really have Brand’s qualities (as many have pointed out, he’s a Hawes duplicate). And Marreese Speights doesn’t provide any of the defensive or rebounding value that Brand does. With essentially the same roster as last season, the Sixers still have no one that can really replace Elton Brand. Whether its his sweet jumper that provides space for his teammates (his jumpers were 80% assisted, usually off of picks) or his long arms which bother defenders, Brand provides much need basketball value.
Which makes it supremely important that Brand is rested and healthy for as long as possible. Playing every game shouldn’t be a goal. Giving him rest when they play three games in a row might not be a bad idea. 5 games in 7 days? Make it 4. Are they up or down by double digits? Give him a rest. He’s getting close to being 33 years old. Brand’s in great shape (and he always has been), but as he gets older he’ll inevitably become more injury-prone. Cutting down his minutes and games played should render him more effective than he would be with more.
While the Sixers have some depth around the court, Brand is the one piece they cannot lose without having a big drop-off in production. Keeping him off the court for just a little bit more should provide long-run dividends.