For those who wanted to see Jimmy Butler be more assertive on offense, Friday was your night.
Butler was aggressive early and often, scoring a game-high 22 points in a 123-114 Sixers’ win over the Kings at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).
Butler had a pretty simple explanation for why he played so well.
“It was 75 degrees outside today,” Butler said. “I just feel good. Like for real, that weather, that 75 degrees, my body felt good, we were rolling. I think everyone was comfortable. We realize how important each and every one of these games is down the stretch so it’s time to take it up a notch or two.”
Of course it wasn’t just about the weather. Butler warmed to the task inside the arena.
The 22 points were nice, but what stood out more was Butler looking to get his. The four-time All-Star took 14 shots from the field and also hit 6 of 7 from the line. He also has enjoyed and flourished in his role as facilitator, especially with the team’s second unit.
It was a different Butler than we’ve seen at times, one the Sixers are hoping shows up in the postseason.
“We will not — I’ll say not even close — we will not be as good as we can be without him playing like he plays and like he played tonight,” Brett Brown said. “I’m the coach and I got to figure out the best way to do this. Some of [it’s] with substitutions and rotations. Some of it’s his teammates recognizing. Some of it’s on him. Somewhere in the middle, if we could all meet …
“He’s just incredibly gifted. He really is so athletic that he can make plays through that physical presence and skill package. We need him. We need him. That’s the bottom line.”
There’s been a lot of talk about Butler’s role and the number of shots he takes. Here’s the thing about Butler: he’s never been a volume shooter. Even when he was “the man” in Chicago, the highest amount of shots he averaged in a season is 16.5.
That’s not to say that there aren’t times when Butler should be a little more selfish. But if anything, it should be encouraging given how unceremonious his departure from Minnesota was. He recognizes the talent that’s around him and is fitting in with it.
“He was particularly aggressive tonight,” JJ Redick said. “I thought every time that he felt like he had a matchup that he just went at that person’s neck basically. He made plays. He ended up with [seven assists] so it wasn’t just scoring the ball, it was driving, creating havoc. Just a level of aggression he’s shown that at times for us and we’d love to see that every night for sure.”
While much has been made about his offensive output, there have been a few troubling moments on defense. Butler came to the Sixers with a reputation of being one of the best two-way wings in the game, but there’s been a few occasions where he’s failed to keep the game in front of him.
Friday was not one of those nights. In fact, this may have been the best overall performance Butler has had as a Sixer.
“I just go out there and do what I’m asked to do for the most part, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “Play with a little bit of energy, guard, gamble a lot, and mess up on those gambles the majority of the time, but I just think it’s fun. It’s definitely fun to win, but it’s fun when everybody’s playing like that.”
When the Sixers are rolling, they’re playing fast and they’re moving the ball. When Butler is rolling, it’s normally in pick-and-roll and iso situations. But that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Come playoff time, they’ll need to be able to play both ways.
By the way, the playoffs start in mid-April, which means the weather should be decent.
That’s good news for Butler and the Sixers.
“Snow gone. We good,” Butler said. “I’ll be ready to rock.”
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