Brett Brown could not be prouder of the monster he created.

As he sits on the cusp of his first NBA coach of the year award, he realizes the public will fixate on the Philadelphia 76ers winning 52 games this season after winning just 28 last season, and after averaging fewer than 16 wins in his first three, sabotaged seasons. His peers certainly acknowledge the winning.

“In our profession, Brett has become a legend,” said Dallas Mavericks Coach Rick Carlisle, who was NBA coach of the year in 2002 with the Detroit Pistons. “He has just been unshakable as a leader.”

Brown, 57, knows the panel of voters in the media, who vote at the end of the regular season, will focus on things such as the current 16-game winning streak that guaranteed the Sixers home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It’s impossible to ignore 7-foot-2 center Joel Embiid, an All-Star starter in his second season of play, and rookie of the year shoo-in Ben Simmons; the integration of shooters JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova; and the continued development of second-year forward Dario Saric.

But what is Brown most proud of?

He won’t say; not directly, anyway. People close to him know, and it’s not even close.

“The decision to make Ben Simmons a point guard,” one of Brown’s confidants said.

Why? Because that decision was all Brett Brown, and the idea came to him long before Simmons played an NBA game.

Even before Brown saw Simmons play in his single season at LSU, where the 6-foot-10 Simmons was a power forward, Brown envisioned Simmons running the point in the NBA. He said as much in November 2015. But would Simmons be amenable? Could he learn the job? Could he be a selfless, skilled, durable commander?

These were the questions Brown asked David Simmons, Ben’s father, whom Brown coached as a pro in Australia. They spoke both before and after the 2016 NBA draft, in which the Sixers took Ben first overall.

David Simmons said he wasn’t sure, not even last season, when Simmons suffered a broken foot in training camp and sat out the entire year.

Now, everybody’s sure.

“Ben is a completely different package than any of us would have ever guessed. The poise. The unflappable mindset. The continued growth of the intellectual side of what is a point guard. And the skills,” Brown said. “He has exceeded all of the expectations I had for him.”

And Brown has exceeded the expectations of his critics.

As late as March, he dealt with the suffocating ignorance of cognoscenti eager to crucify him for blowing nine double-digit leads, even though his primary ball handlers were Simmons and Embiid, who after a particularly painful loss to the Bucks on March 4 still had played just 82 NBA games.

Even as the 76ers struggled to close out games, the principles were improving. Since the All-Star break, Simmons and Embiid have cut their giveaway rates by about one full turnover, and Simmons’ assist-to-turnover rate has almost doubled, from 1.97 to 3.74. Simmons is averaging about one more rebound per game, too, and has improved from 7.3 assists per game to 10.1.

The assist increase almost directly coincides with the additions of veteran shooters Belinelli and Ilyasova, signings encouraged by Brown, who then masterfully integrated them.

Lately, watching Brown manage nine- and 10-man rotations based on analytic modeling is like watching a fire dancer juggle cats blindfolded. Nevertheless, the Sixers have won 16 consecutive games. In the last 10 games, Brown extricated backup point guard T.J. McConnell, an integral part of the team the past two seasons, in favor of rookie Markelle Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick who missed the previous 68 games because of a shoulder injury.

Embiid has missed the last nine games because of a fractured orbital bone. The Sixers won them by an average of 12 points. That included taking the No. 3 seed from LeBron James and Cleveland on Friday night.

That’s not the only reason Carlisle and other coaches consider Brown a legend.

The first picks in Brown’s five drafts have played 66 of 412 possible games of the season in which they were drafted. Not all have turned out to be productive picks – Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor didn’t pan out, but the development of those two was impeded by supporting casts built to lose. Now that he has the horses, Brown has raced to the front of the pack. Embiid’s growth is staggering. Saric has become a core player. McConnell and forward Robert Covington were part of a wave of what essentially was tryout talent. Brown created them from whole cloth.

There are, of course, other fine candidates for the coach of the year award. Mike D’Antoni, last year’s winner, got even better in Houston, but did so by adding a Hall of Fame point guard, Chris Paul. Quin Snyder’s Utah Jazz made the playoffs again despite losing Gordon Hayward to free agency, and Boston’s Brad Stevens had the best team in the East for much of the season despite losing Hayward to injury in the first game. Nate McMillan’s Pacers made the playoffs despite trading Paul George, and Dwane Casey’s Raptors are on top of the Eastern Conference because they’re 24-7 since Feb. 2.

Yet there are no criteria for coach of the year that Brown does not meet. He took a remade roster that was altered in February and increased his win total by 24 games. He made the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and secured a top-three seed. He has coached four of the five starters from their NBA births. His best player, Embiid, was restricted early in the season and has been absent lately.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: