Jimmy Butler’s impact being felt early on

The Sixers were just one big move away, and used it correctly on Jimmy Butler.

Crossover. Crossover. Dribble forward. Stepback. Side step to the right. Slightly fade toward the home’s team bench. Sink the game winner. No, this isn’t some fantastical Sixers memory of the 6-foot guard from Georgetown. This is 2018, and the Sixers found themselves the biggest piece to an almost-complete puzzle.

Jimmy Butler was brought to Philadelphia after a tumultuous tenure with the Timberwolves to take the burgeoning Sixers to a level they were on the path to piercing. Championship contention is the new attainable goal. Brown recently told The Athletic’s Derek Bodner that a Spursian mentality is currently encompassing the team, in that the only standard is a championship standard. Surely that mentality is preached in every locker room, but the Sixers just created a frightening triad of premier talent that could allow the team to take on any starting unit in the NBA.

But depth matters. With Butler’s arrival came the departure of important starters Dario Saric and Robert Covington. This moved Wilson Chandler into the starting lineup, leaving Amir Johnson and Mike Muscala being the only impactful front court bench players. With an out of commission Markelle Fultz, TJ McConnell and the shooting pair of Furkan Korkmaz and Landry Shamet make up the rest of the regular rotation.

The amount of depth, if not already obvious, is thinner than a french pancake. The crepe-like build of this roster is the reason why the heroics of Jimmy Butler was already called upon twice against teams thought to be of lesser talent than the Sixers. With absolute daggers to the Charlotte Hornets and the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia finds itself at 14-8 and third in the Eastern Conference.

BBall Index’s win projections done by Jacob Goldstein had the Sixers at 47.7 wins pre-trade, but the new total is 48.9 post-trade. Further impact is shown in his total points over expectation (tPOE). Butler is in the 98th percentile this season in tPOE, inclusive of his Minnesota stint.

The offensive scheme has yet to fluidly connect since Butler’s arrival, and without two miraculous shots could theoretically be in a frightening 12-10 situation without him, but there have been bright spots to indicate that with more repetition could come something special.

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This innate cutting ability only comes with experience. Butler throws a routine pass to Simmons at the top of the key. Just after he lulls Joe Harris to sleep with his demeanor, he fakes a step towards the ball then bursts to the basket on a backdoor cut for an easy dunk.

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Here, Jimmy Butler uses a fake first step towards the bucket and then pulls back for a tro point shot off the dribble. This is the type of one-on-one playmaking that wasn’t present in previous seasons.

Butler just became Ben Simmons‘ most versatile target he has ever played with. Butler’s ability to effortlessly finish around the rim, as well as the presence outside that can’t be ignored by opponent’s defense is something foreign to Simmons’ young career. Yes, he plays with arguably the best center in the game, but the two man action usually is a handoff to Joel Embiid for an outside shot, or a dump into the post. With Simmons inability and unwillingness to shoot from outside of 3 ft., the pick and roll has worked sparsely.

With the former-Bulls star now bursting into the offensive scheme, we’ve seen the Ben Simmons that was expected following a historical rookie season. Assuming this is largely a direct relation to the Butler arrival is nowhere near farfetched. Before Butler, Simmons averaged 14.9 points, 7.7 assists, and 9.5 rebounds, a ORTG of 103.5 and a 53.2 effective field goal percent. Since Butler’s debut, Simmons’ scoring and assists have increased and is now seeing an ORTG of 115.3, and seems to be more comfortable attacking.

Jimmy Butler’s defensive tenacity is also softening the blow of losing Covington. Pick-pocketing is has been frequent for the intimidating wing, averaging 2.1steals per game. His early adeptness to this switchy defensive scheme was shown since day one. It really is the perfect match. An intense defender meeting a highly-demanding scheme.

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Butler sags off Julius Randle to double team Jrue Holiday and pokes the ball loose with ease, showing his elite defensive awareness.

The projections have only pushed the Sixers one game forward, but Butler has already taken two home for Philadelphia. The impact that this new addition has brought in the locker room and on the court is already irreplaceable. Which is why, even with age and cap space being taken into account, the team should be throwing any and all cards on the table to keep the aging star as long as possible.

The Sixers may be a few small puzzle pieces away, but they found their third main piece. Argue, if you’d like, whether that pushes them forward or not. What’s undebatable is that there is a new energy flowing through the Sixers, and it’s allowing this young roster to gain unlimited confidence.

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