Will the real Elton Brand please stand up?

Wilt, Kareem, Hakeem, Baylor, Ewing, The Admiral, Pettit, Bellamy, Bird, The Mailman, Barkley, Lanier, McAdoo, Hayes, Bailey Howell, Shaq, Duncan……and Elton Brand.  So what does this list represent?  Well besides being some of the greatest players of all-time, these are the only 18 players in NBA history to score more than 12,000 points and grab more than 6,000 rebounds through their first eight years in the NBA.

Actually the word "greatest" would be an understatement as that list contains 15 Hall of Famers, two future HOF locks (Shaq and Duncan)……and Elton Brand.  So what happened to Mr. Brand?  Of course there was the ruptured Achilles’ tendon with the Clippers and then the dislocated shoulder with the 76ers, but other players have come back from similar injuries to produce the same as they did before getting hurt.  And therein lies the question that Philadelphia is wondering, "Will we ever see the Elton Brand of old or just an old Elton Brand?

Pre-injuries, Brand was a biological freak of nature.  What he lacked in athleticism he made up for with his God-given physical gifts: long arms, big hands, and excellent strength.  When Brand measured in at the pre-draft camps in 1999, his wingspan was recorded at 7-foot-5 1/2 which is equal to that of 7-footer Brook Lopez and an inch longer than Dwight Howard’s wingspan. This, along with his great instincts, has enabled Brand to become third all-time in blocked shots among players 6-9 or shorter, trailing only Elvin Hayes and Ben Wallace.

Those big hands helped Brand become this generation’s Moses Malone due to his work on the offensive glass; Brand finished in the top five in offensive rebounds in each of his first six years in the league and currently ranks sixth all time in offensive rebounds per game with 3.7. As for his strength, nobody could outmuscle Brand if he got the ball down low as he was like a taller Charles Barkley with his ability to score at ease in the post against taller defenders. In the era of jump shooting power forwards à la Nowitzki, Garnett, and Rasheed Wallace, Brand was a throwback to the back-to-the-basket post players of yesteryear. So could a torn Achilles tendon really rob Brand of all of these skills? One would think not, especially when you look at other NBA players who’ve suffered this injury and have come back to regain their previous form the following season. 

Dominique Wilkins was one of the first NBA players to suffer the dreaded torn Achilles tendon. It happened when he was 32 years old but the injury didn’t hurt his production much as he averaged 28 points and 7 rebounds with 46 percent shooting the year of the injury and then 30 points and seven boards with 47 percent shooting the year after. Remember, Wilkins was a player who relied on his athleticism so looking purely at the stats, it doesn’t seem as the injury had much of an effect on his athletic ability.

If you want to look at a low-post player similar to Brand who suffered an Achilles injury, then I present to you the case of Patrick Ewing. In the season of his injury, Ewing averaged 17 and 10 on 44 percent shooting and in the year after his injury he put up 15 and 10 on 47 percent shooting.  Let me remind you that Ewing was 37 when he put up 15 and 10, numbers that Sixers fans would have been happy with from Brand last year.  Brand’s descent from a career 20 and 10 guy to last year’s 13 and six defies logic (I’m not even looking at his two injury-marred seasons).  So what will it take for Brand to get back to being a dominant low-post threat?  Well the Sixers started the process by trading away Samuel Dalembert.

 

Field Goal Attempts by Location
Name 10-15 feet 16-23 feet Threes Total
Dalembert 73 65 0 138
Hawes 38 152 87 277
Kaman 228 312 6 546
Source: Hoopdata.com

As I said in an earlier column, Dalembert is a "black hole" on the offensive end who just takes up space down low. He is in stark contrast to Brand’s former Clippers teammate, Chris Kaman, who spaced the floor which let Brand operate closer to the basket. Spencer Hawes is a similar offensive player to Kaman in that he also prefers to play outside of the paint as illustrated in the chart above. That should allow Brand to play where he is most comfortable and that’s with his back to the basket where he can use those prodigious physical gifts to his advantage. Brand may never be a 20 and 10 guy again but he should do just enough to let Philly fans forget about his enormous contract….at least until the trading deadline.

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