Jimmy Butler is a Sixer.
It’s been five days, and it still doesn’t seem real to me. Partially because I was prepared to wait another season or two for a deal like this to happen, and partially because I’m still in denial that we’re without Robert Covington and Dario Saric, two Process Babies turned valuable trade assets. Not to be dramatic but when I first heard about the trade I wanted to die (Dario and I met and fell in love at The Rights to Ricky Sanchez live podcast in September), but after seeing Butler play with the Sixers against the Orlando Magic on November 14, I’m less ready to die and more ready to see what the rest of the season has in store for the 76ers.
Inevitably, Butler’s presence moved Markelle Fultz to the bench and gave Brett Brown a strong starting lineup of Simmons, Butler, Redick, Chandler, and Embiid. Once the game got started, it was easy to see the effect the trade had on the Sixers’ offense. With their new star, the Sixers’ offense forced Orlando to redistribute their defenders, opening up the floor and allowing the Sixers to take their time and assess the next course of action. Several times throughout the night, the Sixers ran the shot clock all the way down, simply because they had the time to. Seeing this newfound patience was a refreshing change from the usually frantic pace we see on the floor that often ends up with Joel bullying his way to the basket with four defenders hanging off him.
Early on, this patience paid off and allowed the Sixers to get creative and run plays that resulted in Joel Embiid hitting four of his first five shots (one jumper and three 3-pointers), cuts and drives from Butler, and deadly pick and roll executions that we rarely see from the Sixers. Towards the end of the half, Butler, Embiid, and Simmons executed a Spain pick and roll that made me do a double take. With the Sixers coming in dead last in pick and roll frequency in the 2017-2018 season, I was looking forward to Butler’s role in the team resulting in an increase of frequency, but I don’t think I was quite ready for such a dazzling play. With this pick and roll sequence, the screen is set by Embiid for Butler while Simmons sets the second screen on Butler’s defender so Butler is able to “roll” forward into the paint. While this play didn’t result in points, it is so exciting to see the Sixers attempt new plays and witness the newfound confidence that comes with bringing on a star.
With the Sixers trading two cornerstone players, I was curious to see how lineups would be affected. Brett Brown tried out a ton of different lineup combinations and played Markelle Fultz off the bench, which turned out to be a great role for him in this game. After a foul shot that made every Sixers fans’ heads collectively explode, Fultz showed a confidence and ease that resulted in a 67% field goal percentage, one steal, and two blocks. I wonder how much of that is due to the backlash from that dreaded foul shot, and how much is due to Butler joining the squad and bumping him to the bench. I’d like to think there’s an energizing aspect to bringing on Butler and opening up new play possibilities, as Furkan Korkmaz, Landry Shamet, and Wilson Chandler all had great showings too.
Defensively, there were shining moments that made me mutter to myself like a crazy person. Butler’s ability to attach himself like a magnet defensively almost makes up for losing Covington (almost). There were points when it was clear that the Magic ran out of options, resulting in a turnover or shot clock violation due to the heavy defensive pressure courtesy of the new Sixers roster. At a couple points in the game, the Sixers managed to pull ahead by at least ten points, only to allow the Magic to close up the lead and pull ahead, in true Sixers fashion.
As with any mid-season trade, there were bumpy moments that ultimately resulted in the Sixers’ demise. It’s important to keep the bigger picture in view when considering where to place the blame for this loss, especially keeping in mind the fact that Butler had to adjust to a new team and the rest of the Sixers had to adjust to the loss of two major contributors, both on and off the court. The trade was jarring to us as fans, and I can only imagine how the team is coping with the loss of two Sixers family members. As Brett Brown mentioned in a post game interview, “[They’re] just trying to figure each other out … It’s going to take time.” And he’s right. While we’re all pumped up on newfound optimism about our new stah, we need to remember that Butler’s integration is going to take time, both for him and his teammates. It might be a rocky road, but once we get there, the Sixers are sure to be a force to be reckoned with.