The Sixers have had trouble maintaining the leads that they so often build towards the end of the first half and early second half, especially in times when there’s secondary rotations being run before crunch time. For a team with aspirations for to appear Eastern Conference Finals, you need to hold on to every lead you can build. With defensive powerhouses like Boston and Toronto, or high-volume fast-paced scorers like Milwaukee in their way, you never know when you might stumble upon a 3rd quarter scoring drought. So what can the Sixers do to establish more consistency in their scoring down the stretch, and with bench guys rotating in more frequently.
The Sixers are 26th out of 30 teams in 4th quarter scoring, despite having multiple players in the Top 25 average PPG in the league (Embiid at number 3 notably, behind only Steph Curry and Lebron James). While the second player in that ranking is a new addition, the raw scoring potential is there for the Sixers. As I mentioned in my Jimmy Butler debut blog, Butler is among the highest in the league for 4th quarter scoring, at number 3 averaging 8.1 points, tying with number 2 Lou Williams and a measly .1 behind number 1, Lebron James. In theory, Butler should be a nice shot in the arm for the Sixers, adding a new primary playmaker in lineups that don’t include Ben Simmons as the game drags on. How might that happen though?
Butler in theory will fill a similar role in theory as Robert Covington, as an elite perimeter defender and option 1B on offense in the starting 5. However, Butler has a unique ability to create off the dribble, handle the ball, and initiate offense in a way that Covington wasn’t able to. Now, adding a new playmaker in place of a catch and shoot 2-guard adds some complexity to this lineup. I see the addition of Butler as an opportunity for Simmons to learn to play off-ball a little bit more, since Butler is a bigger threat in a half-court offense despite Simmons proficiency in playmaking and engaging others in the plays. Or better yet, add some raw scoring potential and playmaking in lineups when Simmons is out. Both of these scenarios add a lot of flexibility to lineups as players like Muscala, Korkmaz, and Fultz come in and reduce the pure creation and defensive ability of the lineup deep into the games.
To me, Brett Brown needs to take into account that Jimmy Butler is now on this team, and he needs to lean into that. Early as it was, the rotations in the debut were heavy on Simmons and Butler together on the court. Maybe, in a sort of Harden/Paul-esque way, they stagger minutes a little bit more and spread out the depth a bit, rather than riding super high highs and trying to survive super low lows. Maybe, Simmons plays some minutes as a small-ball 5 with Jimmy taking the ball from the top of the key, since Simmons is less of a threat from the arc, and is capable of cutting and taking lobs, or receiving a pass in the corner and driving and kicking to players like Shamet, Kormaz, or a wide open Muscala.
This team has a ton to figure out, especially as they consider some trades to add shooting depth before the deadline. But most importantly, the need to spread the scoring consistency through 4 quarters, 3-point threats or not.