Almost two weeks ago, Sixers head coach Brett Brown said Ben Simmons faced the “biggest adjustment” playing with Jimmy Butler.
It’s fair to say that adjustment has gone smoothly.
When Butler’s been on the court, Simmons has usually been there with him; he’s played 31.8 of his 33.8 minutes per game with Simmons.
In the 254 minutes Butler has played with Simmons, the Sixers have a 115.1 offensive rating. In the 16 minutes he’s played without him, the team’s offensive rating is 89.2. It’s a very small sample size, but the early returns are encouraging.
Simmons has already assisted on 16 of Butler’s field goals, and the Sixers’ newest star is 25 for 55 (45 percent) on passes from Simmons.
“He’s a basketball player,” Butler said of Simmons on Thursday. “Point guard, point forward, whatever you want to call him, I think he does everything in his power to help us win games. Whatever he has to do, he’s going to do it to the best of his ability. He’s a young guy but the way that his mind works, it’s like a vet. He’s one of the leaders here and he really does want to win. He’s constantly in the gym putting in the work. Whenever you have a guy like that at the head of the snake, it’s hard to do.”
Along with Butler and Simmons, the JJ Redick-Joel Embiid pairing has been excellent as usual for the Sixers.
That duo has played the most minutes of any two-man Sixers pairing and has a plus-10.6 net rating. Their creative, constantly evolving two-man game has a seemingly infinite number of options. Last season, Embiid and Redick had the 10th-best net rating of any two-man unit in the NBA at plus-12.8 (minimum 1,000 minutes).
Though Embiid and Simmons were fourth-best in that category last season, they haven’t been quite at the same level this campaign — the pair has a plus-4.1 net rating together.
And, as Habestroh notes, Embiiid and Butler haven’t gelled yet, though you’d expect their pairing to improve as Brown incorporates more pick-and-rolls between the two in the Sixers’ offense, something he’s said he’d like to do.
Taking a step back, the potential of the Sixers’ new starting unit is vast. The five-man group of Butler, Redick, Simmons, Embiid and Wilson Chandler has a plus-15 net rating in 95 minutes, the fourth-best mark of any five-man group in the NBA that’s played at least 90 minutes.
If Butler continues to develop his chemistry with Simmons, there’s a real possibliity the Sixers could wind up having two of the best duos in the NBA, or even three if Embiid and Simmons can return to last season’s form together.
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