76ers

Jimmy Butler as point guard going from experiment to solution

Jimmy Butler as point guard going from experiment to solution

Ben Simmons is an All-Star point guard. Jimmy Butler is a four-time All-Star as a forward.

But sometimes, change is good. 

Simmons struggled in the first half of the Sixers’ win Thursday, but had a huge second half that helped lead the team to a win. He was just 2 of 6 before halftime, but went 7 of 13 after and finished with 21 points.

The difference? Simmons saw way more touches in the post. 

If you’re looking for an area of Simmons’ game that’s improved drastically, it’s his post play. Last season, he shot just 30 percent and took just 70 shots in the post. In 2018-19, he’s hitting 51 percent — sixth in the league among players with at least 250 post ups — and has already taken 104 attempts.

When push came to shove, Simmons knew where he could score. And the Heat didn’t have an answer, allowing Simmons to score eight straight points for the Sixers in the third. 

“Rarely when the game is unfolding do you look out on the floor and don’t think, ‘Oh, he’s got a mismatch,’” Brett Brown said. “He’s 6-foot-10 and there’s a physicality to him that’s more potent and powerful than others may see on a stat sheet. He’s physical and he’s big. I thought what stood out was that he wanted the ball. He sensed we needed a bucket.”

Everyone knows Simmons’ biggest flaw. He’s a point guard that can’t shoot. 

Just look at what the Celtics did to him last season in the playoffs — and what they’ve done to him this season. They sag way off him, daring him to shoot. They’re disciplined and get back on defense, hindering Simmons’ ability to utilize his strength in transition.

The Sixers’ solution may already be in the works. Before the game in Los Angeles against the Lakers back on Jan.29, Brown mentioned that he was going to experiment with Butler at point guard. At first, that was kind of eyebrow raising, but when you break it down, it actually makes a ton of sense.

Butler is an underrated playmaker and doesn’t the turn ball over much for a high-usage player. Among players that average at least 25 minutes a game, Butler ranks seventh in turnover percentage (the number of turnovers a player commits per 100 possessions).

As far as the eye test goes, Butler appears more than comfortable in the role. With how much firepower the Sixers have, Butler has a tendency to just sort of blend in offensively at times. Playing the one, he gets the ball in his hands early and initiates the offense.

It begs the question: Why didn’t any other coach ever think of putting Butler at point guard? Perhaps it was his size at 6-foot-8 that gave coaches pause.

With what they’ve been willing to do with Simmons, clearly that’s not a concern for Brown and the Sixers.

“Every time I see Jimmy play and he gets into these situations, you’re just reminded, he has so much sort of brute force on the game,” Brown said. “I think that when he can get a shoulder by people, it’s over. It’s hard to recover on that. When he can’t get a shoulder by somebody and he just sort of initiates shoulder on chest, he’s still able to create space. 

“He’s big enough with his size to see over things and deliver balls to the rim out of pick-and-rolls.”

Playing Simmons at a traditional four and Butler at the one allows Simmons to play more out of the post and Butler to be involved in more pick-and-rolls, where’s he’s comfortable. And even with Butler as the point guard, Simmons can still grab the ball off the rim and push it up the floor when the opportunity arises.

With the playoffs looming, this may no longer be an experiment. This may be a solution.

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Five things the 2020 NBA Championship odds are telling us

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USA TODAY Images

Five things the 2020 NBA Championship odds are telling us

While the Toronto Raptors lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy signified the start of the offseason, the Anthony Davis to the Lakers trade proves that in the NBA, there’s no such thing as an offseason.

According to Tom Haberstroh, the national NBA Insider for NBC Sports, the Lakers should be the heavy favorites to win the title (see story). But what are the new NBA title odds telling us?

Here are five takeaways from what I think the oddsmakers at FanDuel are telling us about the league, and the eventual 2020 NBA champion.

1. The Sixers (11-to-1) will keep Jimmy Butler

The Sixers have the fifth-best odds to win the NBA title, third in the East, and are significantly ahead of the Boston Celtics (18-to-1), the team with the fourth-best odds in the East. I think this says a lot about what team oddsmakers think the Sixers will have next season, which the value indicates will include free agent Jimmy Butler.

Looking at the available free agents on the market, Butler is the only one that could keep the Sixers in this spot in the oddsmakers' minds. Should he go to the Lakers, or another team, the Sixers would have the current value closer to the Celtics to win the title. While Tobias Harris is a nice player, he doesn’t hae the same value as Butler. The oddsmakers are making an assumption that No. 23 will be back.

2. The Warriors (11-to-1) are underdogs, but you shouldn’t count them out

Don’t be so quick to write off the Golden State Warriors, who will be without Kevin Durant for the entire season, and perhaps Klay Thompson, too. Oddsmakers have them even with the Sixers with the fifth-best odds in the NBA to win the title.

First of all, Steph Curry — a very good basketball player — returns alongside Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala and you’ve already got a formidable trio. Should Thompson return, now you’ve got four players that nearly won the 2019 title themselves. 

Perhaps KD was already going to leave anyway, so his injury could be more symbolic, but it would be unwise to write the Warriors off just yet. 

3. Kawhi is probably going to the Clippers

This reminds me of last offseason when each of the LeBron James suitors had elevated odds, just in case he were to land there. First of all, the Raptors enter the offseason with the third-best odds to repeat at 5.5-to-1, which makes me think that the bookmakers want to keep the Raptors high enough so that no one bets on them before Leonard decides. I have absolutely no interest in the Raptors at the third-best odds without Leonard, but they seem fairly placed in that spot with him. If you like the Raptors to repeat, just wait to see what Kawhi does because their odds won’t move much, if at all, if he stays.

The Clippers, on the other hand, come in seventh-best at 12-to-1 and are elevated given the chance they will land the NBA Finals MVP. The Clippers finished eighth last season out West and the odds currently reflect their strong chance to get Leonard. 

4. The Knicks and Pelicans will have to wait their turn

The Knicks come in at 25-to-1, the 12th-best odds in the NBA to win the title, but what would that number have looked like with a healthy Kevin Durant? Maybe half that number?

The Knicks are a potential landing spot for nearly every free agent, but without KD, the oddsmakers aren’t giving them much of a shot. They missed out on the top pick in the draft, and while they’re likely to get a good player at No. 3 — our Amy Fadool has them taking R.J.Barrett in her mock — they’ve got time before they’re going to be seen as challengers.

Same for the Pelicans (100-to-1), who are being praised for what they got in return for Anthony Davis. With the Pelicans' infusion of youth, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Zion, Lonzo Ball, and company over the next five years. But this year, according to the oddsmakers, certainly isn’t it.

5. Despite being favored, the Lakers could be the best value

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma — do the Lakers (4-to-1) need anyone else? Of course they do, but that’s a tremendous start. With their entire complement of talent intact at the start of these playoffs, the Warriors were minus-200 to win the title. Now imagine a team with the three players mentioned, and perhaps, another superstar. With the Warriors weakened, Kawhi perhaps headed to a lesser team and KD out for the season, getting the Lakers at 4-to-1 now could look like incredible value come next postseason.

6. Bonus Longshot: Dallas Mavericks at 42-to-1.

How good will the Mavs be with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis? Not sure, but 42-to-1 could be worth a punt.

Happy NBA “offseason,” everyone. See you on Thursday for the draft, and perhaps, more craziness. 

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NBA offseason begins in earnest as Lakers reportedly agree to trade with Pelicans for Anthony Davis

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USA Today Images/Derick E. Hingle

NBA offseason begins in earnest as Lakers reportedly agree to trade with Pelicans for Anthony Davis

It didn’t take long for the NBA offseason to begin in earnest.

Just two days after the Raptors clinched the NBA title, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Los Angeles Lakers have acquired star center Anthony Davis in a trade with the New Orleans Pelicans. In return, the Pelicans are getting Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and three first-round picks, including the No. 4 selection in this year’s draft. 

The move has massive big-picture implications for the league. The Lakers now have a six-time All-Star with career averages of 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks to pair with LeBron James.

New Orleans got a substantial haul in return. Ball and Ingram, two former No. 2 overall picks, are both 21 years old. A Villanova product, Hart couldn’t build on a promising rookie campaign last year but has the makings of someone who can be a valuable NBA role player for many years. The Pelicans will also feel they have a real chance to land a star(s) with the three first-round picks, whether through the draft or through subsequent trades. They already had the No. 1 pick in this year's draft and are expected to select the electric Zion Williamson. 

According to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes, the Lakers gave up all that for one guaranteed year of Davis — Haynes says Davis will enter free agency after this year. The fact that Toronto’s gamble to trade for one year of Kawhi Leonard before he hit free agency paid off could spark a league-wide trend of banking on short-term "rentals" for stars (see story). 

For the Sixers, the first, obvious takeaway from the trade is that their biggest rival failed to land Davis — the Celtics were reportedly interested in him, but The New York Times’ Marc Stein reports Boston refused to make Jayson Tatum available, which stunted negotiations. 

It’s unclear at the moment how the trade might affect Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris, the Sixers' two big-name free agents. Haynes reported Friday that Butler, as expected, will decline his player option. He also reported the Lakers “have genuine interest” in Butler. The Sixers hold Butler’s Bird Rights and are the only team who can offer him a five-year, $190 million deal.  

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