Seltzer's Notebook | Expectations Exceeded, Praise for Splitter, Howard on Holmes

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Brown Appreciates 16-17 Sixers
Throughout his four-year tenure with the Sixers, Brett Brown has routinely expressed an affinity for many of the players he’s had the chance to coach. Regardless of whether or not someone was with the club for a few days or a few months, as long as he was knocking out good days, and giving maximum effort, he also likely had Brown’s respect.

This season, however, it has become more and more apparent that Brown holds a particular fondness for the group he’s been tasked with developing over the past six months. Sure, this year’s roster has won more than Brown’s teams in the past, but chalking his feelings up to that factor alone would be shortsighted. Brown’s perspective on life, especially interpersonal matters, goes far deeper than that.

So what is it, then, about this current crop of Sixers that resonates with Brown so much?

First and foremost, he appears to appreciate how close his troops have become in the face of adversity. Amidst mounting injuries to players who were expected to fill major rotational roles, and lengthy road trips falling during tricky junctures of the schedule, the Sixers have refused to make excuses, choosing instead to look the other way. Still, they’ve managed to be competitive.

The Sixers’ collectively personality has seemed to strike a chord with Brown as well. They are, through all their endearing goofiness, a bunch that’s hard not to like, and enjoys being around each other.

This clip, for instance, came from last Friday’s win in Chicago…

The interesting exchange shown below occurred right after Tuesday’s triumph at Barclays Center…

Also from Brooklyn, another version of the Sixers’ pre-game ritual, shown in the opening clips of this video…

All season long, there have been plenty of moments that have captured the genuine camaraderie and chemistry that exists within the team.

Wednesday’s home match-up against the always-tough Atlanta Hawks provided Brown with yet another opportunity to make his affection for the 16-17 Sixers known.

Hosting a playoff-bound opponent on the second night of a back-to-back, Brown again found himself dealing with a depleted depth chart. He had, at most, nine players available. His confidence didn’t waver, though, as the Sixers successfully navigated a similar personnel shortage the previous night at Brooklyn.

Fight the Sixers did, trimming a deficit that was at one point as large as 11 points down to two in the early stages of the fourth quarter. Although the Sixers ultimately lost to the Hawks, 99-92, Brown still left The Center satisfied with the effort he saw, and what his observations implied.

“I’m proud of the culture,” Brown said, when asked to assess how the Sixers handled themselves in unfavorable circumstances. “[‘Culture’] is such a kicked around word, I feel even guilty talking about it, because it takes years to truly quantify it, but I feel like we’re building a base, a cultural base of what we’ve been talking about.”

Now more than ever, it looks like. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why Brown has experienced such a strong connection to this year’s team.

Splitter Boasts Strong Track Record in Locker Room
In the days leading up to Tiago Splitter being added to the Sixers’ active roster, Brett Brown had plenty of praiseworthy things to say about the 32-year old big man. Brown’s comments were based not only on Splitter’s recent efforts to return from a right calf strain, but also the professionalism the veteran has shown throughout his career, dating back to the three years Brown and Splitter spent together in San Antonio.

Brown is not alone in his admiration of Splitter. The sentiments Brown expressed were echoed in recent days by two of his coaching peers, Brooklyn’s Kenny Atkinson, and Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer. Both men worked with Splitter in Atlanta, where Atkinson had served as one of Budenholzer’s assistants prior to joining the Nets last April.

Splitter was dealt to the Hawks from the Spurs in July of 2015. He was then moved to the Sixers this past February just before the trade deadline.

“Top notch person, player,” Atkinson said Tuesday, prior to the Sixers’ game in Brooklyn.

Later that night, Splitter made not only his Sixers’ debut, but his first appearance in an NBA regular season game since January 31st, 2016.

“I enjoyed being around him,” Atkinson said of his season with Splitter in Atlanta. “I enjoyed his presence.”

Atkinson, whose near three-decade coaching career has taken him all over the globe, added that he even picked up a few tips from Splitter through conversations they had a year ago.

“Sometimes as a coach, especially as an assistant, you’re talking to these guys constantly,” said Atkinson. “He would always give me tips. I remember one scenario, he was talking about the jump ball, how we could align differently, which I thought was pretty good. He’s that type of guy, he’s curious about the game, he’s worldly, played in a lot of different places.”

Atkinson went on to call Splitter a “great pick-up” for the Sixers, and a “great culture guy” whom Atkinson “loved being around.”

Splitter’s stint with Atlanta reunited him with Budenholzer, who, like Brown, left Gregg Popovich’s bench during the 2013 off-season to pursue his first NBA head coaching opportunity. Splitter logged 36 games for the Hawks in 2015-2016, before injuries cut short his campaign.

“Tiago is such a good person,” Budenholzer said Wednesday. “He brings a great spirit to any team, whether he’s playing or just working, having him as part of the group adds to your culture, adds to your fiber.”

As for the impact Splitter’s capable of having on the court?

“He’s a smart player, he’s really good in the pick-and-roll game, great passing big-to-big, getting guards open,” Budenholzer rattled off. “Defensively, he’s just very smart in the right place all the time.”

Splitter didn’t play against Atlanta Wednesday, his scratch classified as a “Coach’s Decision.” The development wasn’t wholly unexpected, given that Splitter had played the previous evening versus the Nets, and is still in the process of trying to get himself back to full speed.

Holmes Consistency Standing Out
From opposing teams and members of the media alike, Richaun Holmes has been drawing a lot of deserved attention lately. He continues to put up stellar post-All Star break numbers, especially in the absence of Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness), whose injury has thrust Holmes into the Sixers’ starting line-up the last four games.

Wednesday night against Atlanta, Holmes established a new career-high in points scored, with 25. He converted 11 of 16 field goal attempts, including a 3-pointer, his 19th this season. The second-year big man’s All-Star counterpart was impressed.

“I thought he played great,” said Dwight Howard, who’s got an 20 extra pounds on Holmes. “I am really happy for him. I remember the first time he stepped on the court with me, he was just, like, excited. He just kept saying, ‘Wow, I’m on the floor with Dwight Howard,’ and he just kept saying it.

“Just to see his growth from that moment, he plays with such energy and such passion, it is great to see, especially from a young guy like him, and I’m proud of him.”

Holmes said, “It’s another challenge, playing against one of the best in the world. It’s another way to learn, and another way to get better. Obviously, I enjoyed it.”

Not surprisingly, at his post-game press conference, Brett Brown was asked about Holmes, which has become a regular occurrence during the head coach’s recent media availabilities. Holmes, who’s accounted for 13.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game since the All-Star break, has performed with a consistency that has surprised Brown. The determination of the Bowling Green product, however, has not.

“It’s a competitive world we live in. He has a right to draw his own line in the sand, that he’s done what he needs to do to continue to hold his spot,” Brown said of Holmes, who began the season as the fourth center on the Sixers’ depth chart. Not once did Holmes ever show outward signs of discontent, or let his output in limited action suffer.

“He didn’t sort of wilt,” said Brown. “He didn’t sort of shrivel up and hide. He went to the D-League. He continued to practice. He was incredibly compliant. He was a wonderful teammate.

“Although he is a four-year college player, and for me that is an incredibly different stage than one-and-done guys that I have had, he’s still young. And he handled [this season] with great maturity, and I feel like he’s earned the right to come in now, and play, and play a more significant role.”

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