Numbers to know: How Jimmy Butler will impact Sixers
The Philadelphia 76ers are going all-in on winning now, having reportedly agreed to a trade that will send Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick to Minnesota for disgruntled star Jimmy Butler and injured big man Justin Patton.
The principles, of course, are Butler, Covington and Saric, with Philly dealing two starters for one. The Sixers now have a nominal “Big Three” in Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The question is how well they will fit together.
Here are some numbers of note as we look at the new-look Sixers …
CLUTCH TIME USAGE
The Sixers already have a primary ballhandler in Simmons. But when the game is on the line, Simmons takes a step backward. In each of the last two seasons, he has seen a drop in usage rate in clutch minutes, in part because he doesn’t shoot from outside the paint and doesn’t shoot well from the free throw line.
Butler can obviously handle the ball more than Covington and Saric combined. He ranked sixth in the league in clutch usage rate last season, having used 41 percent of the Wolves’ possessions while he was on the floor with the score within five in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
Right now, the Sixers’ go-to action on big possessions is a two-man game with Embiid and JJ Redick, which is difficult to defend in any situation. Embiid (18) and Redick (15) have taken 33 of the team’s 47 shots in the clutch. A weak-side Butler/Simmons pick-and-roll as a secondary option on those plays wouldn’t be too bad.
Non-clutch possessions are important, too. The Sixers are 8-5 after their overtime win over Charlotte on Friday, but they’ve been outscored by seven points over their 13 games. They’ve seen the league’s sixth biggest drop in offensive efficiency, having scored 2.6 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season.
Turnovers, as they’ve always been, are an issue. The Sixers rank 25th in turnover rate, having coughed the ball up 15.6 times per 100 possessions.
One big problem is that the Sixers are starting two guards – Simmons and Markelle Fultz – that can’t shoot. The two former No. 1 picks have combined to make just 14 shots (on 61 attempts) from from outside the paint through 13 games, and the Sixers have scored just 94.2 points per 100 possessions (6.1 points per 100 possessions worse than the worst offense in the league) with the pair on the floor together.
The Sixers’ third point guard, T.J. McConnell, has attempted just two 3-pointers in 127 minutes. So three of the Sixers’ top five guards are reluctant to shoot from deep.
Saric’s shooting has been bad, too. He was 13-for-56 (23 percent) from 3-point range before making eight of his 14 attempts over the last two games. Still, in regard to shooting, the Sixers gave up more than they got back in the trade.
Redick’s shooting, combined with his relentless movement, is the more important complement to Simmons and Embiid, but having two forwards who can shoot off the catch has been critical.
Butler (38.8 percent) has actually been a better catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter than both Covington (35.4 percent) and Saric (36.0 percent) over the last two-plus seasons, but not at the same volume, and he’s been more likely to be inside the arc when shooting off the catch.
On the other end of the floor, the Sixers just got smaller. They ranked third defensively last season and rank 10th this season, in part because they’re huge, with four starters that are 6-9 (Covington), 6-10 (Saric), 6-10 (Simmons) and 7-0 (Embiid). Covington is now replaced by the 6-8 Butler.
Simmons can surely defend the power forward position, the 6-9 Wilson Chandler is another versatile forward, and the 6-11 Mike Muscala will continue to play some minutes at the four next to Embiid. But the Sixers will lose some of their ability to consistently out-size their opponents.
Butler is a terrific defender when engaged, but so is Covington, who led the league by a pretty comfortable margin in deflections per 36 minutes last season. In his final game with the Sixers, Covington was a big factor in keeping Kemba Walker in check until the fourth quarter on Friday. (In two games against the Sixers, Walker has shot 8-for-21 with Covington as his primary defender.)
We can’t assume that Sixers’ roster won’t change between now and March. They still have assets they can use to acquire more shooting. Last season, both Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova were signed after post-deadline buyouts and gave the team a big lift on the offensive end of the floor.
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