Down the Stretch: How the Addition of Jimmy Butler Can Improve the Sixers’ Offense Late in the Game

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.

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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.

The Kids Are Alright…Right?

The state of the young talent on the 76ers at this moment is one of the more intriguing aspects of one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA. While there’s two notably high profile young men taking huge steps forward in Embiid and Simmons, this piece isn’t about those two. They’ve both been steadily improving after their shared first healthy offseason, where they got to work on their respective games, get bigger and better, and work to patch the holes exposed in their games from last year’s playoffs. But we all know enough about them, for right now at least.

With the much-anticipated arrival of Jimmy Butler, with a less-than-negligible history of locker room issues specifically with rookies, let’s investigate the state of the true young guys-Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet, and of course Markelle Fultz.

Zhaire Smith, unfortunately, hasn’t had much to be discussed lately. Besides his preseason injury and a strange emergency surgery to save him from a food allergen he had ingested (which is apparently not weird enough by 76ers rookie standards to make big NBA news), Zhaire has been quietly humming along. As the Sixers’ highest draft pick from this past offseason, there’s high hopes he can make a speedy recovery and work to be a strong young player, particularly on the defensive end of the ball, as soon as possible.

Landry Shamet, surprisingly, has made a big impact-and fast. He’s quickly dug himself a role in Brett Brown’s rotations as a shooter and has made some impressive plays off the dribble as well. And most shockingly, he’s overcome what was expected to be a defensive deficiency due to his small frame and wingspan, but his quick decision making and smart reads have made him much more playable on the other end of the ball. All in all, this kid has showed he’s willing to work hard to produce value for this team in a variety of roles and that will be worth a lot in a locker room with someone who’s got beef with the ever-lackadaisical Andrew Wiggins.

Finally we reach the elephant in the room, and the primary source of the title of this article, Markelle Fultz. The problem with Fultz is just that: The Kid is alright. Just alright. And for someone that the 76ers took number 1 overall, and traded picks for, he needs to be that killer from UW. Fultz problem hasn’t been so much that he hasn’t shown these skills: he shot a couple 3-pointers early on, but the attempts tapered off, he has improved defensively, and he has glimpses of those skillful plays from days of yore. But glimpses aren’t enough for someone we gave up future assets for. He clearly has the skills, at least enough to not be a total minus off the bench. So where is that killer instinct that he used when he was the No.1 option at Washington?

All in all, the Sixers have much to be excited about with this bunch. But the fact that the one drafted far and away the highest is the one with the gloomiest present and the most doubtful future with the franchise, there is much to be figured out for Markelle Fultz.

LeBron Gets Exposed like a Bum

Yet another example of my mortal enemy, LeBron James, being the fraudulent drama queen he is. When he should be worrying about my Sixers as well as the Celtics in the upcoming NBA playoffs, the so called “King” is suing Nick Saban, head coach of Alabama football in case you live under a rock and didn’t know, for having a show taking place in a barbershop. Never before have I considered myself a Nick Saban fan, but that might change because he is the only person on the planet that has stood up against the shack of shit, LeBron James. For the entirety of LeBron’s life, he has been handed everything; from college recruiters giving him gifts, endorsements deals, and his competition practically bending down on one knee to him as if he were Jon Snow.

LeBron is officially rattled and things are only going to get worse for him since there is literally a 0% chance he wins this ridiculous lawsuit, being that its such a ridiculous lawsuit. Hey LeBron guess what? People have been doing interviews, TV shows, and movies in barbershops for years so you could probably be sued for the same dumb thing you hypocrite. I know you didn’t go to college LeBron but you should be smart enough to know you can’t win this case. The fact that Nick Saban has been on record saying that he going to continue his “Shop Talk” program shows a lack of respect toward the King that frankly no one on the planet in the past decade besides myself and Lance Stephenson have shown him. Sorry LeBron James but there’s a new king in town and its not you buddy. Congrats Nick Saban you’ve made yourself an ally for life. Below is a live look at Nick Saban and LeBron

Image result for Lebron James crying