Jimmy Butler sat out tonight’s home game against the Nets due to injury rest, but to be honest he would have earned a night off. Since his trade to Philadelphia in mid-November, his impact has been difficult to ignore. He had the game winner against Charlotte, the game winner against Brooklyn, the 38 point game against Toronto, and the next game after that, he put up 38 points in the team’s win against Detroit-without Embiid.
Part of what makes Butler so special is that he’s probably one of the 5 most well-rounded players in the league, who I would argue puts him in the company of Kawhi Leonard, Anthony Davis, and a few select others who are dominant defensively and so flexible offensively in the way that Butler is.
So, that begs the question: How can you optimize Butler’s wide-ranging toolkit in the Sixers’ system? What does he add to the Sixers’ hopes of title-contention in the coming years?
One notable aspect of Butler’s play, is that while he can shoot the 3-ball at a proficient rate, he benefits greatly from spacing the floor. This was the subject of the comments that Joel Embiid made (and that the media took out of context and way out of proportion). Embiid felt that the reason he has struggled in some games recently was due to the fact that he’s been played further out from the basket in some plays. While this is indeed to space the floor for Butler, it will benefit Simmons as well, and as a big man who can shoot 3’s at a solid clip, it’s not like his skills are being wasted.
Butler is athletic enough to drive, and is very strong finishing around the rim, so he gets mileage from floor-spacing. However, it’s important to mention that since both Jimmy and JoJo can shoot, they can essentially space the floor for one another, and that Butler’s field goal shooting provides himself some coverage if he chooses to push towards the basket.
So, in one sense, spacing the floor may make life a little harder for Embiid, but he also hasn’t played as much with Butler outside of the starting lineups. There has been much more Simmons/Butler with Muscala at 5, and more Embiid/Redick (DHO’s baby). So while Embiid does have to make an adjustment to his playstyle to help out Butler, this isn’t a huge detriment to his game.
This is also taking into consideration that Brett Brown hasn’t integrated the pick and roll into the playcalling that much thus far, and adding another facet to this offense could do wonders. The “Big 3” of this team is so varied in size, skills, and needs that it offers a lot to be utilized in the offense. Simmons doesn’t shoot, but he can be surrounded by capable shooters and his passing is good enough to capitalize off of that. Embiid is a do-it-all offensive player who can’t be guarded down low, and is one of the 5 best defenders in the league.
And that leaves us with Butler. It seems fitting that the final piece added to complete this new well-rounded core is one of the premiere well-rounded players in the league. When seen in that light, it’s easy to see why the team made the move to go and get their guy. They saw two brilliant young talents with so much upside yet with some glaring limitations, and they found the guy who can do anything and everything they need him to. Huge block against a guy with 60 under his belt for the night? Done. Dagger 3 to beat the buzzer? Done. Bringing down the hammer from Simmons lobs? Easy money.
Butler brings a little bit of everything to the table, and allowing him the space and teammates to support him in doing that, and to benefit from him doing that, will get this team very far. My advice to the team is to lean into the idea of well-roundedness. One dimensional play is part of what brought the Sixers’ playoff run to an end just one year ago, and becoming a swiss army knife of an offense while maintaining a high-energy defense could be this team’s path to the finals.