In the 76ers’ 111-105 loss to the Orlando Magic Wednesday night, there was some obvious shortcomings of introducing a new primary ball-handler and big time star into your starting 5. Here are some of my quick takeaways from watching Jimmy Butler’s first game as a Sixer:
Pros: Between the transcendent passing of point guard Ben Simmons and smooth cuts of most of his prime targets, one of the Sixers’ greatest strengths is their ability to meaningfully move the ball in order to shake up a defense. Jimmy Butler seemed to fit into this aspect of Sixer basketball pretty smoothly. One play in particular had Jimmy pump-fake on a corner 3, to quickly dish it out to Muscala at the top of the key for a clean 3-point shot. Integrating players like Muscala, Chandler, and Shamet is going to be key for the Sixers to get value out of some of the guys coming off the bench, and there were plenty of plays that gave reason for optimism in that regard from Jimmy and the gang tonight.
Cons: The two problems that have plagued the Sixers in close games down the stretch this year have been a high turnover rate and low scoring in the late 3rd/early 4th quarter. The turnover rate is a logical consequence of moving the ball a lot. The more the ball changes hands, the more likely there is to be a minor error that can cause the ball to jar loose, or that a swift defensive hand can intercept. On top of Embiid’s often shaky handle (to his credit he’s improved significantly since the start of the season) the Sixers have plenty to brush up on in terms of execution, especially before playoff time, where elite defenses like Boston and Toronto might be particularly well-equipped to exploit sloppy movement.
The late scoring droughts, in my opinion, seems to be a symbol of how vulnerable the Sixers’ bench can be defensively, and depending on the lineup, how inept they can be offensively. Jimmy Butler leads the league in average 4th quarter scoring, so in theory he should help balance out some of the rotations and keep the drive going late into the game. It’s also not surprising, however, to consider that this will take some time to figure out in his new system: one where he isn’t playing nearly 40 minutes a night on back to backs, and has a different role in initiating offense. The Sixers let up 21 unanswered points from Orlando in the 3rd, a momentum switch they never quite recovered from.
The good news is, both of these problems should get better in time, and as Jimmy Butler settles into his role on the squad and as the rest of the players adjust accordingly.