The Jimmy Butler trade has been a smashing success for the Philadelphia 76ers. After scuffling a bit out of the gates, the Sixers have a 113.7 offensive rating following the acquisition of Butler — up 5.6 points per 100 possessions from their pre-trade mark. The star trio of Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (a sneaky MVP candidate averaging 26 points, 13 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while leading the NBA in free throw attempts) has posted a 112 oRTG in 648 possessions together.
There have been some galvanizing moments, from multiple Butler game winners to a furious comeback against the Nets in Brooklyn, but Philadelphia’s loss on Christmas Day to a member of the Eastern Conference’s elite served as a reminder of some of the structural issues the Sixers face with their current roster.
The team has played 11 games with “clutch” minutes (defined by NBA.com as being within five points with five minutes or fewer to go in the fourth quarter and all overtime minutes) since the Butler trade. The Sixers — despite being 7-4 in these contests — have posted a 103.2 oRTG in those minutes. This includes a dismal 13 points on 21 clutch possessions (shooting just 17.6 percent from the field) on Christmas Day.
As the season progresses, Brett Brown and his staff must explore how successful the offense can be when Ben Simmons plays off the ball in crunch time. The famously jumper-averse Simmons is just 4-for-24 outside of the paint this season, a complicating factor when playing next to a dominant center in Embiid.
Here’s an example against a different elite squad in the East, the Toronto Raptors. Watch as Butler and Embiid try to run a simple side ball screen action with Simmons in the dunker spot. Though Butler initially seems to turn the corner on Kawhi Leonard, he is greeted by Pascal Siakam — who is guarding Simmons — as he nears the basket.
The same issue occurred on Christmas Day when Butler and Embiid went back to the right wing ball screen.
The problem isn’t necessarily Simmons himself — though his usual desire to shoot layups right-handed does shorten recovery distance — but rather, his positioning.