Breaking Brand: Fitting Elton into the Atlanta Offense

Cole Patty —  October 23, 2013

Elton Brand isn’t what he used to be. A former year-in, year-out 20-10 option, Brand tore his Achilles in his last year with the Clippers, signed with Philadelphia, and never returned to the All-Star form he once had. This led to the former Duke product’s demise with the franchise as the 76ers eventually decided he would be their designated amnesty player. Elton then spent one year in Dallas, as they won the amnesty auction for a mere $2.1 million. Surely, he wasn’t the desired commodity he use to be.

However, for everything Elton Brand is no longer is at this point of his career, he isn’t necessarily a bad player overall. His contract is actually quite a bargain. Brand came to the Hawks this summer on a 1-year, $4 million dollar deal, and that fits perfectly into what the Hawks are trying to do in the organizational build standpoint. With Lucas Nogueira waiting to make the leap to the NBA, Elton is the perfect stop gap measure. The question comes down to what Brand can produce on the court at 34-years-old.

Spacing is a very buzz-worthy concept in the NBA today, and for good reason; you can’t maintain a strong offense if four defenders can defend any given shot by one of your offensive players. There is a need to use every corner of the floor. With Elton, he brings spacing in a different dimension than what first comes to mind. Paul Millsap and Al Horford prefer the left side of the floor for their mid-range shots — though Al is strong on most angles, just is slightly better left — and they will be able to stay in their comfortable domains whenever Brand comes on the floor. Elton shot 40-82 on the right side of the floor outside of the paint, and his 48.8% mark on that side of the floor is more than enough to be considered a green area (high efficiency) on Vorped. Meanwhile he shot 37.9% on attempts outside of the paint on the left. For reference on how Al Horford and Paul Millsap favored the left side in comparison to the right. Al shot 48.3% on the left-side and a still-manageable 40.8% on the right, while Paul shot 40.2% and 38.7% respectively. It’s worth mentioning that while Paul’s numbers from a strict left-side, right-side basis don’t look strong (thanks Utah’s offense!), he was absolute money on non-baseline shots on the left-side outside the paint. Millsap hit 55.3% of these shots, which ranks in the upper echelon around the league.

These numbers matter because spacing is not only vertical, but also lateral in nature. If one player is setting up shop on the inside to the left, the other big man can’t simply walk right next to him and do the same. That would be silly. And while Millsap and Horford will surely figure where each other will be on the floor with all the time they should end up playing together, Brand should quickly develop chemistry with both because they are comfortable on opposite sides. When the going gets rough and one of the pricier bigs goes to one of their habitual spots on the floor, there is a strong chance they don’t have to worry about running over Elton in any fashion.

On top of team personnel perspective, it must be noted that Elton Brand is very, very good at mid-range shots. They aren’t the most desirable shots in today’s NBA, but you can’t simply delete them from existence. Mike Budenholzer’s offense also relies upon the power forward and center being comfortable knocking down these shots more than other offensive concepts. They won’t have to worry too much about not being able to trust number 42’s ability to knock these down. He shot 43.9% on such attempts, which is good enough to be above-average for all types of NBA players.

Now, while Elton may not have any more All-Star seasons in him, he still has the ability to post-up a defender and take it to him one-on-one. He will be extremely exceptional as a bench option in this role. The Hawks bench squad, until Lou Williams returns, doesn’t have much individual shot creation among them. This ability should also come in handy early because Atlanta’s playbook may be simplified while they adjust to Budenholzer in the beginning. Brand’s ability to shoot 46.3% in the post — also good enough to rank 33rd in Synergy in PPP (points per possession) — may come in handy on those possessions where the ball movement can’t get an easy shot or overwhelms Atlanta’s players.

There is a bit of variety in his post game as well. The turnaround jumper is his go to move, however. Elton uses his wide body to create the space in order to get off the shot and the release is smooth. When the jumper doesn’t work though, he has all the post tools in the box. He can use his strength to back smaller guys deep into the post, his long wingspan to get the ball through multiple defenders, his skill to go from post to face up and hit a jumper after a jab step, and still has enough speed to where he can spin towards the middle and create a simple lay-up.

Another dimension of Elton’s game that goes quietly is his pick-and-roll offense. He isn’t nearly the athlete he use to be, but uses his versatile skill-set and high awareness to make the right kind of play. If the opposing big commits too strongly to the ball handler, Brand flares out for a knock-down jumper. If they leave an open lane ready for Brand to go full-speed into like a freight-train, he does. His head is always on a swivel, and he slides into a space like a snake slithers. He’s a big body from first look, but he’s really easy to miss in the two-man game.

The physical ability may have left Brand after his Achilles tear, but that high-level skill hasn’t. As far as bench frontcourt players go, Brand can fill as many holes as one could hope. His 14 years of experience can also cause one to hope he can pick up Bud’s offense and use his the wide array of abilities to the team’s best fit. By the end of the season, this could be a sneaky good contract in determining why Atlanta is in good postseason position.

Cole Patty


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