Quick Reactions: Jimmy Butler’s Debut

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.

(photo: NBA.com)

VP’s Picks 11/14/18

If you haven’t found out that i’m a  degenerate gambler from my tweets, or numerous bios across the web well now you know… I’m not to shabby either so you might want to take my advise so you can make easy money too

11/14/18 VP’s picks 

Football: Wednesday Night football? you’re probably asking yourselves but easy this is actually a thing. Every Wednesday and Tuesday nights the MAC conference plays their hearts out and if you don’t believe me then watch the craziness that happened last week

This great Wednesday of MAC football i’m taking Buffalo +2.5 against Ohio and i may even sprinkle a little bit of dough on the +110 money-line being that Buffalo is the better team in almost every metric and in my mind Ohio is just merely average at best

Basketball: Today has some alright games, nothing specifically good enough to lock in as a win before the game starts but still games you can make money on; Tonight I’ve got Marquette +5.5 against Indiana (I’m not convinced on Indiana and Marquette is gonna be sneaky good this year), Michigan +7 vs Villanova,(Nova sucks, enough said)  and Clemson +24 vs Sam Houston State (Sam Houston State sounds like its a D2 branch campus but Clemson basketball will win this game by at least 30 if they take pride in themselves)

That’s it for today, check back tomorrow for more picks

Jimmy Butler: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

With Jimmy Butler set to lace up and take the hardwood for the first time as a Philadelphia 76er, the Sixers seem to have finally landed the third star they so desperately have been chasing. Teaming up with young phenom Ben Simmons and the Cameroonian Nightmare, Joel Embiid, Butler and the Sixers’ championship chances immediately skyrocketed. But even so, what kind of chance do they have?

There’s no doubt that Jimmy Butler is a phenomenal player. There’s no doubt that he makes the Sixers a better basketball team. But is his baggage worth it? And more importantly, is the timing right?

The Good

The good news is, the Sixers just got a lot better. Sure, it stings seeing two of our most beloved athletes get shipped off to the blistering tundra of Minnesota. Dario Saric and Robert Covington were everything the Process was supposed to be about: a shot in the dark to develop raw, young talent. They embodied the Process and embodied the city. But. And that’s a big but. Jimmy Butler is an All-Star and All-Defensive bully. His intensity on the court and ability to get buckets on his own are two things Covington and Saric never really brought to the table.

The fit is going to be weird. The spacing is going to be weird. Without Covington and Saric, the Sixers effectively have two players who can hit threes at a high clip: JJ Redick and rookie Landry Shamet. It is going to take some time to figure out how Simmons, Embiid, and Butler will play together, but these three guys are good enough, and smart enough, to figure it out eventually.

The Sixers are in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference, and now they have three of the top seven players in the East. Realistically, they look like a top 5 team in the NBA and have a shot to compete for the first seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Bad

Jimmy Butler comes with some baggage… but we already knew this didn’t we? Of course by now everyone knows he wanted out of Minnesota because of tensions in the locker room, but this isn’t the first time we have heard something like this. Even in his days in Chicago, Butler complained about head coach Fred Hoidberg and had grievances with his teammates in the Windy City.

There’s a very real chance Jimmy Butler comes to Philadelphia and brings his problems with him. Whether it’s complaining to Ben about passing up an open look or Markelle Fultz jitters, Butler has the potential to pit the whole band against each other, just like he did in Minnesota.

But.

It’s possible, and more likely, that Butler’s grievances come from being surrounded by “less-than-championship” talent for his entire career. By the time he took over as the Bulls top player, the organization could never give him more than aging Pau Gasol and Dwayne Wade. Things were supposed to be different with the Wolves. Karl Anthony-Towns looked like a generational talent, and with Butler’s help, Andrew Wiggins could develop into one of the most terrifying wing scorers and defenders. But the Wolves’ youth proved to be too immature for Jimmy. KAT and Wiggins simply have the “dog” in them that it takes to be great. They were satisfied with just being good and didn’t put the time and effort in to succeed. In other words, they were more focused on their own achievements rather than their team’s achievements.

While there is still the possibility things go wrong in Philadelphia, there is hope. Butler is going to find a warm welcome to one of the hardest working players in the league in Joel Embiid, one of the most unselfish players in the league in Ben Simmons, and of course one of the easiest coaches to talk to in the NBA in Brett Brown. There is a sense of urgency to win in Philadelphia right now, and I think Butler is going to enjoy the ride.

The Ugly

Well, we talked about his locker room baggage, along with the departures of Dario and Covington, so what could possibly be the ugly?

Timing.

Quite frankly, this trade has panic written all over it. Wanting to make a name for himself, newly named GM, Elton Brand, pulled a quick trigger to make his first major move. And unfortunately, he was looking way to short-sightedly.

Today’s NBA is dominated by one team, and one team only. Everyone knows it, and everyone knows that if that team stays healthy, they will win the Championship.

We all know who I’m talking about.

The Warriors current dominance makes any attempt to win a championship this year almost futile. No team can compete with 3 top 10 caliber players (Demarcus Cousins when healthy) and probably the two greatest role players of all time in Klay and Dray. For as long as Kevin Durant stays in Golden State, the Warriors are set up to dominate for the next few years until age catches up with them.

While the media is having a frenzy over Draymond and Durant’s feud, it’s reckless to say Durant is going to leave Golden State this year. Sure, there have been talks of it before the season ever started, but it was all rumors. The point is people fight, teammates disagree, and egos collide. One disagreement over one regular season game barely seems like enough to break up a team that just won back-to-back championships and is well on their way to win their third in a row.

So why does any of this matter? Well Jimmy Butler is 29 years old. Compared to Embiid (24) and Simmons (22), the Sixers third star is… well… old. Assuming the Sixers re-sign him, as both parties have been reported to be interested in reaching an agreement, Butler has maybe three or four years left of prime basketball, as we see many stars take steep drops once they hit their early 30’s. This gives the Sixers an incredibly tight window to go all in for a Championship, all while during the dynasty of the most talented team of all time.

We put all of our chips into Butler. Dario Saric and Robert Covington were two of the last three high-trade-value assets we had (2021 MIA First Round Pick being the third). If Butler can not deliver, we effectively ended The Process before we could reap its benefits. Sure, our championship chances are considerably higher for the next few seasons, but are we going to win one? Can the likes of Simmons, Embiid, and Butler compete with Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and the Warriors? If you’re asking me, I’m skeptical. It won’t happen this year, and it probably won’t happen next year. The year after? Maybe, but I’m not convinced. And then, by the time Simmons and Embiid are hitting their peaks, Butler will be 32 or 33 and assumably be a far inferior version of his current self. Drafting Markelle Fultz was supposed to give the Sixers three young stars that could grow and dominate together for upwards of a decade. But with Markelle’s struggles and Butler’s age, our window effectively decreases from ten to four.

I’m just as excited to watch Butler in the Rocky sweatsuit jerseys as anyone else, but I am just not sure how well this move fits with our plans moving on in the future.

#Bum: The Beautiful Competitive Psychology of Joel Embiid’s Trash-talk

One of the most defining features of the Sixers’ star big-man Joel Embiid is his affinity for talking trash and getting into his opponents’ heads. This is well-documented, as he frequently takes to Twitter in order to make it happen post game. As funny and clever as he is, it’s worth investigating this a bit more from a psychological and competitive standpoint.

In behavioral psychology, there are certain ways in which you can directly manipulate the likelihood of a certain behavior occurring: punishments and reinforcements. I’m not going to speak too much about those, as I feel most people have a solid understanding about them already. Instead, I’m going to give a brief overview of Embiid’s mind-games and the consequences they can have in games.**

Let’s say, for example, that Embiid unleashes a monster dunk on a player who we’ll call Andre Bummond. After said emphatic jam, JoJo says to Bummond that he’s quote “Wack, and can’t guard [Embiid] without fouling.” If Bummond isn’t able to shake this off, one of two things can happen.

Either he will get frustrated, and make more aggressive decisions without thinking about it, or he will second-guess himself and hesitate before making a decision. The important thing to note is that both of these outcomes are favorable for Embiid in different ways.

In the frustration outcome, the player is much more likely to get more physical and overextend themselves, resulting in a foul (which for some players is the only option anyway). In this scenario, it gives Embiid, an approximate 80% free throw shooter, two easy attempts at the line, assuming he doesn’t go on to make the basket after the foul. No contact, no problem.

The second scenario, in which Bummond starts to question himself, is much more psychologically interesting. If Bummond really takes Embiid’s words to heart, he starts to think introspectively about whether his gut is making the right snap judgments, seeing as the last time he trusted his gut and challenged Embiid at the rim, he got some Cameroonian nuts in his face, and some harsh words in his ear. This hesitation, and questioning of his own decisions, leads him to rely on safer, more reliable options, and to arrive at this decision slower. This, of course, leads to much less resistance for Embiid on his way to the rim, or in the low post. Safer, reliable options don’t work against the Big Fella, especially if you don’t react quick enough.

While a lot of this is hypothetical, there are very real, tangible consequences to Embiid talking trash, on the court or off. Maybe players see his tweets and check in with something to prove, making them play reckless like fouling or turning the ball over. Or, maybe they make a business decision and stay out of his way when he gets the ball inside. Either way, Embiid’s ability to use both his physicality and mental toughness to exert himself on others is little short of competitive genius.

**(Author’s Note: I’ve included two videos. One shows Embiid frustrating Donovan Mitchell to the point of committing a moronic technical foul, resulting in shots from the line. The second one is a fantastic video by Core-A Gaming, about the usefulness of mind games and taunting in a competitive setting in video games, and goes much more in depth about different forms of conditioning and reinforcement strategies, for those uninformed.)