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Cheap Seats: Defensive Player of the Year?

Who deserves the NBA’s 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year award? Basketball Insiders’ interns give their thoughts.

Basketball Insiders

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Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done primarily behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.

This week, the interns discuss the race for the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year award.

Roy Hibbert

Last year, Roy Hibbert finished 10th in Defensive Player of the Year voting and was not voted onto any of the All-Defensive teams. Hibbert was upset and said he was overlooked by media members who didn’t watch Indiana Pacers games. Fans and media members have been paying attention to Indiana throughout this season and have taken notice of Hibbert’s impact on the defensive end.

Last year, Hibbert averaged 11.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. This year, Hibbert is averaging 11.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks. So how could a center who finished 10th last year suddenly be in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year while getting less rebounds and blocked shots per game? Gauging the defensive impact of a player based on traditional statistics alone has always been an imperfect measure.

However, this year the NBA started using SportVU cameras in each arena, which offer new insights into player productivity. NBA.com explains that the camera system “tracks the movements of every player on the court and the basketball 25 times per second. The data collected provides a plethora of innovative statistics based around speed, distance, player separation and ball possession.”

This new data shows that Hibbert is elite at anchoring the Pacers’ league-leading defense. Opponents attempt 10.3 shots at the rim per game with Hibbert defending. This is a high number of attempts, up there with players like DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers, who defends against 10.4 shots at the rim per game. But Hibbert allows opponents to shoot only 41.1 percent at the rim, whereas Jordan allows opponents to shoot 49.4 percent. Hibbert even matches up favorably to Joakim Noah, who allows opponents to shoot 45.7 percent at the rim on 7.5 attempts per game.

Defending the rim is not the only thing that should be considered in terms of defensive contributions, but it is very important. Teams like the Houston Rockets are emphasizing high efficiency shots, which includes three-pointers and shots at the rim. In fact. 52.27 percent of Houston’s overall field goal attempts have been at the rim this season. The Rockets may be an extreme example, but other top teams take a large percentage of shots at the rim as well, such as the San Antonio Spurs (43.64 percent) and Miami HEAT (42.68 percent). This means Hibbert is taking away the highest efficiency shot from some of the league’s best offenses, which is very significant.

In addition, wing defenders like Paul George, Lance Stephenson and George Hill can play aggressive defense on the perimeter knowing that Hibbert is near the basket as backup. When opposing players manage to get past these defenders, Hibbert is often waiting on the backline to alter any shots within in his range. At 7’2, Hibbert is able to cover a lot of ground and affect opposing players as they attack the rim. When the attacking player is someone like LeBron James, the results can be violent.

Hibbert has also improved his footwork and lateral speed, which allows him to show harder on guards probing the paint from the perimeter. He also has improved his timing and awareness of when to rotate from the weak-side to help out on a player driving towards the basket. This improved defense at the rim, coupled with the strong perimeter defense from players like George, has Indiana firmly placed as the top defense in the league as the Pacers allow opponents to score only 96.1 points per 100 possessions.

The second-best defensive team is the Chicago Bulls, allowing 97.7 points per 100 possessions. It is not surprising that the Bulls are in the top-two since Noah anchors the defense in Chicago. His energy and defense at the rim are undeniably solid, and he has improved within Tom Thibodeau’s strong-side defensive system. Noah also posts better traditional stats, averaging 12.4 points, 11.1 rebound, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. While Noah has certainly upped his play lately, and stabilized the gritty Bulls after a rough start to the season, it would be a mistake to ignore what Hibbert and the Pacers were doing earlier in the season.

From early November until early January, the Pacers were holding teams to 93.7 points per 100 possessions. The second closest team at the time was the Oklahoma City Thunder, who allowed 97.6 points per 100 possessions. While the Pacers have fallen on hard times recently, going 7-11 in their last 18 games, it would be unfair to not remember that people were asking whether Indiana had put together the best defense in Pacers’ history and one of the best defenses in NBA history early in the season. Additionally, it has been Indiana’s offense that has hurt them lately more so than the defense.

Acknowledging Hibbert’s elite defense at the rim, it must also be stated that he needs to improve his rebounding. DeAndre Jordan gets 19.3 rebound chances per game – which is simply each time a player is within 3.5 feet of a rebound – and pulls in 71.6 percent of them, good for a league leading 13.8 rebounds per game. Hibbert gets 13.6 rebound chances per game, but only hauls in 50.5 percent of them, good for 6.9 rebounds per game. At 7’2, Hibbert should be grabbing more rebounds. However, the Pacers still bring in the seventh most rebounds per game as a team, so this area has not hurt the team significantly. Also, some of the top-10 rebounders include players like Kevin Love (12.6), DeMarcus Cousins (11.6), LaMarcus Aldridge (11.1) and Al Jefferson (10.5), none of whom are considered elite defensive anchors. So while rebounding is important and an indicator of a player’s defensive impact, it is not the best measure to rely on. Though it must be noted that other top defensive players are also in the top-10, including Jordan (13.8), Dwight Howard (12.3) and Noah (11.1).

There is tight competition for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year award. However, Hibbert stands apart by protecting against the most efficient shot in the NBA, shots at the rim, better than anyone else. His size alone deters opponents from going straight to the rim, even when he is on the weak-side. His teammates are able to stay close to wing players on the perimeter, and hold opposing teams to just 37.3 percent shooting from 20-24 feet, good for seventh best in the league.

Hibbert will not win Defensive Player of the Year based on a traditional stat sheet. Fortunately for him, fans and members of the media have paid attention to the Pacers this year and his overall impact on their defense. It would be unfair to overlook his defensive impact from earlier this season because of Indiana’s recent struggles. Adding these new cameras only confirms what we see on the court, that Hibbert is a towering presence on defense and his overall effect on opposing teams goes beyond blocks and rebounds. He fundamentally changes the way in which opposing teams play against the Pacers, and it has resulted in the best defense in the league. Hibbert was overlooked last year. Let’s not make the same mistake this year.

– Jesse Blancarte

Paul George

In a category traditionally dominated by big men, it’s easy to overlook guards and small forwards when thinking about the top defensive players. The last time a guard or small forward won the Defensive Player of the Year award was Ron Artest in the 2003-04 season. Before Artest, it was Gary Payton in the 1995-96 season. This season, the award should go back to a small forward in Paul George.

Forget the idea that George is also in the race for Most Valuable Player, he should be considered as a serious contender for Defensive Player of the Year. George is currently fifth in the league in total steals with 143 (or 1.9 per game) and fourth among small forwards in rebounding with 459 (or 6.7 per game). One aspect of George’s game that allows him to pressure ball handlers is his 7’0 wingspan and quick foot work. In three games against LeBron James and the Miami HEAT, James shot 51 percent from the field, down from his 57 percent overall percentage, and his three-point percentage was down seven points from his season average.

Perhaps the biggest stat that helps George’s chances at winning the award is defensive win shares. A defensive win share is defined as a metric that estimates the number of wins a player produces for his team due to his defensive ability. George leads the league in defensive win shares at 6.2, ahead of Joakim Noah, DeAndre Jordan and teammates David West, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson. Currently George’s 6.2 defensive win shares is broken down to .081 per game, a number that would put him in a group among the league’s all-time best for guards and forwards. George’s .081 is higher than Michael Jordan’s win share per game of .0744 when he won the award in 1987-88 and higher than Payton’s .069. The all-time high for defensive win shares per game is .0854 by Scottie Pippen in 1994-95.

As far as defensive rating goes, George is third in the league at 96.6 behind only Noah and Andrew Bogut. The Pacers as a team have four total players in the top 20, which is a nod to Pacers head coach Frank Vogel’s league-leading defensive efficiency. While the Pacers’ defense remains intact, the team’s offense has struggled to find ways to put points on the board, averaging 93 points per game since the All-Star break versus 98 points per game prior to the break. The team has gone 13-12 since the break, but George continues to provide the team with a bright spot on the defensive end, improving his rebounds per game from 6.4 before the break to 7.5 per game since the break.

George’s tear on defense isn’t new; he also led the league last season in defensive win shares with 6.3 or .08 per game. George’s numbers last season were greater than those of Marc Gasol, who won the award. While George’s outstanding year on the defensive side of the ball may go unrecognized again, leading the league in defensive win shares in back-to-back seasons must count for something.

– Cody Taylor

Joakim Noah

The Chicago Bulls’ season has been a grind from the beginning. The team has had every reason pack it in, but somehow seems to be playing their best basketball of the year heading into the postseason. The key to their success is obvious – defense. The team has struggled scoring all season, averaging only 93.3 points per game, but they have managed to make it even more difficult for their opponent to score, giving up just 91.8 points per game. The anchor of this stingy group is, of course, center Joakim Noah. Noah, who has always been considered a very solid player on the defensive end, has really come into his own this year and is now right in the thick of the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

The Bulls’ success on the defensive side relies heavily on their active center being able to control the paint and contain in pick-and-roll situations. Noah has done and exceptional job at both.

Rebounding has always been a strength for Noah and this season has been no different; he is cleaning the glass to the tune of 11.1 boards a night. Noah, a good athlete but different from a guy like DeAndre Jordan, excels at getting great position under the rim. His constant activity can cause problems and make it very difficult for some of the slower, less nimble big guys to stay in front of Noah and keep him off the backboard. He has one of the best motors in the league and is able to wear down his man by constantly working to rebound the ball.

Roy Hibbert is the standard right now when it comes to defending at the rim with opponents only scoring on 41 percent of their attempts against him this season. Noah, however, isn’t far behind. Opponents are only scoring on 46 percent of their attempts at the rim when he is down low patrolling the paint. Noah is not an elite shot blocker, but is able to deter shots around the rim by using his quick feet to stay in front of his man and by being active with his hands. He is adept at drawing charges and will almost certainly make opposing players pay if they go to the rim out of control. Also, Noah’s quickness is a great asset when it comes to help defense, as it allows him to effortlessly rotate and cover when his team is scrambling and caught out of position.

While he is a very good interior defender and rebounder, the most impressive aspect of Noah’s defensive performance this year may be his work in pick-and roll-situations. Again, his quickness really benefits him when attempting to contain an attacking guard. His ability to move in space at his size is what really separates Noah from other centers in the NBA. He has great feet, and it’s always entertaining to see Noah get switched up on a guard. The guard thinks they have a big advantage in quickness and can blow right past Noah, but more times than not Noah is able to contain penetration and force a tough shot. The stats just illustrate this point even more. In pick-and-roll situations with Noah defending, opponents are shooting only 34 percent from the field. It’s even more impressive when you compare Noah’s work in pick-and-roll situations with other top big men. Opponents in pick-and-roll situations with Dwight Howard defending are shooting 41 percent from the field and even worse for DeAndre Jordan, allowing opposing players to shoot 47 percent from the field. Noah’s lateral quickness pays huge dividends in these situations and it allows him to aggressively hedge on screens and suffocate the ball handler knowing he has the foot speed to recover back to his man in time. His versatility makes him so unique and will be very valuable in the playoffs as it may create a number of matchup issues.

Noah has been fantastic all season long defensively. His consistent minutes and steady play have been integral in the Bulls’ late season surge. When you couple the fact that the Bulls are at the top or near the top of the league in almost every team defensive category with Noah’s strong individual numbers defensively, it would blasphemous if he wasn’t given serious consideration in the Defensive Player of the Year race. He has been the glue to the toughest unit in the league and that shouldn’t be overlooked. Of course, credit must be given to head coach Tom Thibodeau as he is the mastermind behind the defense, but without Noah it’s hard to imagine this Bulls unit being as nearly as stingy as it has been.

– John Zitzler

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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NBA AM: Dwight Howard’s Quest For Redemption Begins

Dwight Howard says he has been unfairly blamed for previous shortcomings. In Charlotte, he gets a chance to prove it.

Buddy Grizzard

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Prior to the start of training camp for the Charlotte Hornets, newly-acquired center Dwight Howard made an appearance at a charitable event for the Boys and Girls Club at a local elementary school. At that event, Howard laid out the stakes for his first season in Charlotte.

“This [is an] opportunity for myself to really get back everything that I would say has been taken away,” said Howard, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.

In an August interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard seemed to imply that the primary thing that had been taken from him was a major role in the offense of teams he’s played with since he left Orlando, noting that his shot attempts had decreased from double digits to about six per game in Atlanta.

“I think it’s all opportunity, the system,” Howard told Wojnarowski. “I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Earlier this week, Hornets GM Rich Cho told NBA.com that Charlotte was the right place to give Howard that opportunity because of his relationship with coach Steve Clifford, who coached Howard as an assistant at two previous stops.

“With the relationship that Cliff has with Dwight, I know ‘Cliff is going to get the best out of him like he has done with past players,” said Cho. The Charlotte GM also went into detail about how the trade for Howard fit the goals the organization set for the offseason.

“When we entered the offseason, there were a number of things we wanted to accomplish,” said Cho. “One was, we wanted to get a rim protector and some shot blocking. Two, we wanted to add some more physicality. And three, we wanted to add a lot more depth overall and improve our bench play.

“So with Dwight, I think we’ve added all those things. He’s a great rim protector and shot blocker. He’s averaged a double-double every year he’s been in the league. It adds a lot of physicality with him going to the starting lineup and moving Cody [Zeller] into a backup role. It also increases our overall depth.”

Controversy has followed Howard after every NBA stop, and his brief stint with the Hawks was no different. ESPN’s Zach Lowe said on a podcast that he was told that a former teammate of Howard celebrated when informed he had been traded to Charlotte. If Lowe’s story is true, it only shows how divided and factional Atlanta’s locker room was last season. Several of Howard’s younger Hawks teammates took to Twitter to refute Lowe’s account, and Howard was voted Best Teammate by Hawks players in the NBA Players Association’s 2017 Players Voice Awards.

With so many contradictory accounts, it’s understandable why Howard sees a fresh start with the Hornets as an opportunity to counter the narratives that have followed him from stop to stop.

“Throughout all the mess that has happened the last couple of years, this is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself that I know exactly who I am — to just shut people’s mouths,” Howard told Wojnarowski.

With that goal in mind, Howard’s quest for redemption got off to a rocky start in Detroit in Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the Pistons. Howard came close to the double-digit shot attempts he craves, hitting five of nine for 10 points and 15 rebounds. Only Kemba Walker (13) and Jeremy Lamb (10) shot the ball more for Charlotte. But Detroit’s Tobias Harris erupted for 27 points, 10 rebounds, and three assists to help the Pistons open the new Little Caesars Arena with a win.

“We’re going to get it right,” Howard said after the loss. “We’ve just got to stay together, stay focused and get Game 2.”

Awaiting the Hornets in that second game for tonight’s home opener are the same Atlanta Hawks that cut him loose after just one season. In addition to trading Howard, Atlanta allowed All-Star forward Paul Millsap to depart to the Denver Nuggets as a free agent. The Hawks appear to be rebuilding, but Atlanta didn’t look like a team aiming for lottery balls in Dallas Wednesday as the team won its season opener. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the team with 28 points and seven assists while rookie John Collins scored 14 with five rebounds off the bench — the highest-scoring debut by a Hawks rookie since Rumeal Robinson in 1990 — including several thunderous dunks.

In the preseason, Collins addressed the low external expectations for the young Hawks.

“It’s on us to do what we need to do to get these wins,” said Collins. “The chemistry’s great. I’m not really too worried about it.”

While chemistry could help the young Hawks exceed expectations, it will play a key role in Howard’s quest to prove that he was not the root of all the ailments of his past teams. Zeller had a breakout season for the Hornets before the Howard trade moved him to the bench. With Cho declaring that Howard addressed most of the team’s offseason goals, Charlotte should be much closer to a finished product than the retooling Hawks.

Howard is in the best possible position to succeed, with a coach that believes in him and the central offensive role he says he’s been denied in the past. Howard has stated his case, and now it’s up to him to prove it on the court.

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Philadelphia 76ers and Joel Embiid Are Trying To Run Into The Playoffs

The Sixers are going to get out and run. If they want to make the playoffs, Joel Embiid will have to start catching up.

Dennis Chambers

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“We were up on the NBA champions 19 to zero,” Brett Brown said as he recalled his first game as the Philadelphia 76ers head coach back in 2013.

Brown continued his recollection of the events that night, Oct. 30 to be exact, of how a ragtag roster upended LeBron James and the Miami Heat on opening night.

“We won three in a row,” Brown said. “I felt we surprised ourselves and the league. We were in great shape. We were in great cardio shape, we ran.”

Despite a three-game winning streak to start that season, Brown’s Sixers would end the year with just 19 victories. But the head coach kept his team in shape and running, all the way to being the fastest paced team in the league that season.

Present day, nearly four years after the events of Brown’s first night manning the sidelines for Philadelphia, and much has changed with the team. There are new faces, a new attitude, and certain expectations that are developing within the walls of the Sixers’ training facility.

But on the court, not much is changing.

“I feel like that part of it, and the base of it, this year is far superior because of the pieces,” Brown said referring to his offense. “We’ve had however many years to try to have our system in place and coach the coaches. I think from a ‘how do we do things’ perspective, we’re far advanced than that timeframe.”

As Brown kicked off his fifth season at the helm of the Sixers on Wednesday night in the nation’s capital against the Washington Wizards, his team’s play embodied the notion of being superior to years past.

Despite a 120-115 loss to arguably the second best team in the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia flashed the promise of the new pieces the team’s head coach boasted about. Making his NBA debut as a 6-foot-10 point guard, Ben Simmons quickly asserted himself in the game and displayed his affinity for grabbing a rebound and beginning a fast break—just as his coach preached.

Against the Wizards, a team with a point guard in John Wall who is known for running himself, the Sixers outscored Washington in fast break points, handily. Although Philadelphia forced just 10 turnovers, they managed to score 23 points off of their opponent’s mistakes. On top of that, they pushed the paced and outscored Washington 19-4 in fast break points.

Things aren’t perfect for the team, however. Regardless of their superiority in comparison to the team and personnel four years ago, the Sixers still feature a rookie point guard in Simmons, as well as another in Markelle Fultz. Youth leads to mistakes. Whether directly caused by the newcomers or not, a bit of sloppiness led to 17 turnovers by Philadelphia on Wednesday night’s opener.

“I still want to have Ben play with a higher pace,” Brown said. “I want to act responsibly at the end of the break where we can be a little more organized, a little bit more disciplined at the end of a break. But putting up 115 points, and I don’t think we played that well offensively, 13 turnovers in the second half, four or five to start the third period. We have the answers to the test. When people say what’s it going to take for you to get into the playoffs, it’s Joel Embiid’s health and we gotta care way better for the ball.”

The biggest question mark for this Sixers team is obviously Embiid’s health. Starting the season on a minutes restriction, Embiid logged just 27 minutes. Still, that was more time than either Embiid for Brown expected.

During the early stages of this season, Embiid’s minutes will be dictated primarily on the big man’s conditioning. For a team that likes to get out and run the way the Sixers do, that could present a few bumps in the road from the get-go in getting Embiid adjusted to the pace of their game.

Monitoring Embiid’s minutes intelligently and effectively is always at the forefront of Brown’s mind, though. Just like the pace of his team’s play.

“I sat down with the sports science people this morning, and they’re very thoughtful with how they come up with this decision in relation to the loading,” Brown said in reference to Embiid’s minutes. “You can judge the loading scientifically in blocks. There was only one section of his loading, his chunk of minutes, that they deemed to be in the high area. It was torrid pace up and down. The other times he came in he played at a reasonable pace.”

Should the Sixers find themselves in a run-and-gun game, be it by their own doing or their opponent’s, Brown thinks Embiid’s minutes could see a drop off from the opening night number in those instances.

“We’ve done two things,” Brown said. “We still have his health at the forefront, and selfishly for me, and the team, and Jo, you’re able to get maybe eight more minutes than you thought you were gonna get from him.”

While the Sixers look to progress through the season, so will Embiid and his minutes total. Brown isn’t going to change the principles of his offense, with Simmons at the helm he’ll look to enhance the pace at an even higher rate. For the 7-foot-2 center, getting back into game shape so he can consistently run with his team is the most important thing for Philadelphia at the moment.

“It was all on me,” Embiid said about his minutes total. “The way I looked, if I wasn’t tired I was going to play. It’s just about the way I feel. If I look tired, they’re gonna take me out. If I don’t look tired, I’m gonna stay in and keep playing. I thought yesterday I was fine. There was a couple stretches that I was a little bit tired, but it’s all about pacing myself.”

As Brown mentioned, Embiid is Philadelphia’s answer to the playoff questions. For the 76ers, and Embiid himself, pacing will become the staple of their study guide over the course of this season.

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