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Sixers’ Jimmy Butler Reunion Might Be Better Than Plan A

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, the Philadelphia 76ers have shortlisted Jimmy Butler as an offseason target. In fact, they’re willing to offer Butler a two-year max contract extension if they land him.

A six-time All-Star and five-time All-Defensive selection, Butler’s future with the Miami Heat is in limbo. Like Los Angeles Clippers wing Paul George, he wants to remain with his current team. However, the Heat are mulling over the idea of signing Butler to a lucrative deal because of his inability to stay on the floor. George also faces that same problem, playing in fewer than 60 games in four of the past five seasons.

To that point, if the Sixers were to acquire either star, they’d have a similar issue. Yet, there’s one big difference between them. Butler has been with the Sixers before.

Sixers’ Jimmy Butler Reunion Might Be Better Than Plan A

Butler’s history with the Sixers is worth mentioning, as the defensive-minded star played 55 games for Philly in 2018-19.

With the 76ers figuring Butler’s famed toughness would be a better fit beside Joel Embiid than Karl-Anthony Towns, Butler was shipped east after a tenuous season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Given the way that Embiid took to him in their brief time together, the Sixers were smart to think that. Not to mention that Philadelphia went 28-12 when both Embiid and Butler were healthy, a win percentage (.700) that would be the highest in the Western Conference this season. In those 40 games, Embiid averaged 26.6 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game. Butler averaged 18.4 points, 3.8 assists, and 1.9 steals per game.

Both players have developed since then. Embiid has become more intuitive, confident, and capable of shooting from the outside. Over the past four seasons, he’s averaging 31.5 points per game, making 36.4 percent of his 3s. In that time, Butler has posted 21.7 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting from 3. He’s also averaged 5.7 assists per game, teams relying more on his playmaking ability than in years past.

Paul George vs. Jimmy Butler

Basketball is a bit more complex than adding counting stats, Nonetheless, the idea that the pairing of Embiid and Butler could be better the next time around is fascinating. Indeed, it’s worth wondering whether George should be their primary free agent target.

George is a far more effective 3-point threat than Butler, whereas Butler’s more efficient inside the restricted area. As he’s also an elite scorer and defender, George is a more sensible offseason addition. Not only are 3-pointers en vogue in today’s NBA, but he’s more capable of playing off of Embiid and Tyrese Maxey.

However, Butler is already proven to fit alongside Embiid. It’s not theoretical, like with George. That said, due to their evolution and respective strengths, Butler could take on more of a role as an on-ball playmaker than he did in their first season together. If so, getting the ball out of Maxey or Embiid’s hands a little isn’t the worst idea; neither are natural facilitators. His off-ball limitations are another reason he’s more likely to be used as a fulcrum for the offense.

He’s also developed a far better reputation as a playoff performer in recent years. In his past two postseason appearances, Butler averaged 27.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 48.4 percent from the field. For comparison, George has averaged 24.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game over his past eight postseason while shooting 42.7 percent from the field. Frankly, neither have consistently put their best foot forward in the playoffs. Nonetheless, Butler’s recent history brings about a greater belief in how he’ll fare in the playoffs.


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