The Philadelphia 76ers weren’t as competitive to start the season as they expected to be. So they went and got Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves to help chase a spot in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.
Butler is one of the best NBA two-way players in the game. He is able to lock up opponents' top scorers and carry a large offensive load. Now comes the challenge of integrating Butler into the Sixers' system with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, one entirely different for him.
The Wolves are a heavy pick-and-roll team — it accounts for nearly a quarter of their entire offensive profile, according to Synergy Sports Tech. In the 10 games Butler logged with them this season, he played in the pick-and-roll more than a third of the time (36 percent).
The Sixers have an entirely different offensive profile that is built around dribble handoffs, not pick-and-rolls.
Dribble handoffs, or DHOs, are plays where a ballhandler dribbles toward a teammate who is running at them. This creates an opportunity to exchange possession of the ball while setting a screen simultaneously. It is perfect for the Sixers' personnel, a team with a cadre of shooters including JJ Redick, who can come off the handoff and shoot with deadly accuracy. These possessions are difficult to defend because normally the ballhandler/screener has a live dribble so if the defense overacts they can turn the corner and attack the rim.
After three games and very little practice time, Butler is already getting adjusted to the Sixers' DHO game. Against Utah on Friday, they put him into this action several times, freeing him up to get to the rim when Joe Ingles went over the handoff then step behind the handoff for a three when Ingles went over the screen. He then came off a screen into a DHO with Amir Johnson, which he used to get to the paint for another layup.
Butler should not only fit right into the system, he should flourish in it. As good as Redick is in DHO actions, he is not the best playmaker out of them. With Butler, defenses have to be prepared for him to explode to the rim, pull up for a shot or find Embiid or Simmons rolling to the rim. They also cannot sag on the weakside off Redick. The Sixers have lacked a ballhandler who can score in any way needed while running the offense; in Butler they have just that.
Butler also allows the Sixers to add more pick-and-roll plays with him as the ballhandler, giving Philadelphia a more dynamic offense.
With Simmons running pick-and-rolls, most defenses go under the pick, daring him to pull up for jumper. Although last season he was successful at still getting to the rim when teams went under, he struggled in their playoff series against Boston, which exploited this weakness. Teams cannot do that with Butler — he is more than capable coming off the ball screen and pulling up for three or a midrange jumper.
The other value Butler brings to the table is he immediately becomes the Sixers' best option at the end of close games. Just as in pick-and-rolls and handoffs, his ability to get just about anything he wants puts pressure on defense. The Sixers already turned to him to deliver a win against Charlotte on Saturday, first in regulation and then in overtime when he hit a three off an isolation play.
A midseason trade can be difficult for a team to navigate; depending on the timing of the trade, teams might not have enough time to put it all together. The Sixers pulling the trigger on a trade this early in the season is not one of those situations. They have more than enough time to integrate Butler into their system, build chemistry and make any other changes to the roster if need be. This trade has given them three of the top 25 players in the NBA and puts them right back in contention in the Eastern Conference.