For Philly, the path to the top has been clear now. Having accumulated two elite talents in Embiid and Simmons, they’ve been sitting on cap space that allowed them to accumulate a third star. When they missed out on LeBron last July, they rolled it over; but by acquiring Jimmy Butler, they’ve cashed in their chips now. So where does this leave them? Let’s start with talent.
In terms of the East, this is the best Big 3 you’ll find. While Giannis and Kawhi are likely better players than any of the Philly guys, these are likely the next three best players in the conference. In the NBA (especially the playoffs), talent so often wins out. That alone puts them in the top 2-3 east teams.
But the fit is just so… clunky. Who handles the ball? It’s hardly news to anyone, but Ben Simmons does not shoot. He took 11 three-pointers last year (he made none), and is yet to attempt one this year. If the offence isn’t running through Simmons, he’s kind of redundant out there.
But Butler is a guy that likes to pound the rock. Butler’s a guy that likes to take the last shot. In the clutch, Butler is probably what the Sixers have been missing in end-of-game situations and will surely help then. But it’s not going to be smooth for the rest of the game. It’s going to require Butler to mould his game to the Simmons, rather than the other way around. For all Simmons’ talent, he’s not super flexible.
The shooting is now a problem across the board now; Butler is a career 34.1% three-point shooter but has gradually improved (he’s 38.5% this year). Butler comes in to replace Saric who averaged over 39% last year, and Covington, who’s averaged 41% this year. While the Sixers still have a Dead-Eye (red)Dick, there’s just not a lot of shooting outside of that.
There’s just not a lot of anything outside the starting five anymore. Dealing Covington and Saric for Butler is always worth it, but it leaves the Sixers woefully thin. Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler are suddenly vital contributors at Power Forward with two of the starters who played through that position gone. While Butler is an excellent defender, so was Robert Covington – they likely haven’t improved any on defence.
For the Sixers, this was an “act now, plan later” proposition. But they’re up to the bit where they have to plan out how to make this work. Butler will win you more playoff games than Covington or Saric will. But the regular season is going to be a slog. It’s worked so far for the most part though. The Sixers are 2-1 and would have gone 3-0 if not for a disastrous final quarter against Orlando.
But this is a move that needs to work for longer than 3 games. For all the long-term chat about The Process, we’ve suddenly reached the point where the Sixers have reached their final form, and Butler just isn’t a sure thing.
Aside from the fit, there are other concerns. Minnesota was the second team in two years that he’s forced his way out of. He’s also spent the majority of his career playing for Tom Thibadeau, so he’s unlikely to age gracefully. We’ve seen how he dealt with Towns’ and Wiggins’ flaws, how’s he going to go with the fragile Markelle Fultz?
For the Sixers, this was a deal they had to do, but it’s one that comes with its own set of problems.
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