76ers

Sixers film review: What we learned from Jimmy Butler's debut

Sixers film review: What we learned from Jimmy Butler's debut

Heading into Jimmy Butler’s Sixers debut, there was plenty of excitement, but also considerable consternation about his fit with his new team.

After the Sixers’ 111-106 loss to the Magic on Wednesday, we finally have some film to break down after what felt like weeks waiting for Butler to play.

Let’s look at the skills Butler showcased, how the Sixers used him in his debut, and the way his role might develop.

Because Butler had just one shootaround with his new team, the Sixers’ playbook for him was understandably limited. Instead of installing a bunch of new actions for Butler, Brett Brown plugged him into a couple plays the Sixers have already installed and used them often.

A 1st taste of the playbook

Brown called the first play of the game for Butler, having him make an "Iverson cut," then use staggered screens from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, with Embiid popping behind the three-point line and Simmons rolling. Butler passed up an open mid-range opportunity.

The Sixers kept returning to that same play, knowing Butler’s affinity for the pick-and-roll. On the second time they tried it, Butler made a solid read to deny the screens from Simmons and Embiid and drive baseline, but then threw a pass into no man's land.

However, this action did get Embiid two open three-point shots, with the defense collapsing on Butler.


The other play Brown ran over and over again with Butler put the Sixers’ new star in a position JJ Redick typically occupies. The Sixers love this action at the end of games, entering the ball into Embiid at the elbow and having Redick curl up into a dribble handoff from Embiid. 

While it’s a basic play, Redick and Embiid seem to have countless options off it, because the two have a great understanding of each other and make smart, instinctive reads based on how the defense is playing them. 

There are early signs the two-man game between Butler and Embiid also has a fair amount of potential. 

As expected, Butler didn't always make the perfect read. He probably should've either taken a mid-range jumper or thrown a lob to Embiid on this third-quarter play.

Here, the two-man game freed Butler for a wide-open 17-footer. That's a shot you can bank on him hitting more often than not.

Again, the result wasn't positive on this final example of the two-man game between Butler and Embiid, but the play itself was encouraging. Butler notices that his man is overplaying the dribble handoff, so he darts up as if he's going to get the ball from Embiid, then cuts backdoor. 

 


While he gets called for an offensive foul, there's real promise in the Embiid-Butler two-man game, especially as Brown incorporates more actions and spots on the floor where the two can play off each other.

"You can see how you can put [Jimmy] and Joel in different actions and situations that as we practice and they have sort of a greater familiarity than 24 hours, I can see some really good things happening," Brown told reporters. "Especially with those two together.

"You see it and you saw it even in shootaround. Jimmy really was trying to go out of his way to find Jo and vice versa. When you strip it down to simple action, they’re going to be creative enough and skilled enough to find different things that other coaching staffs don’t expect. I feel like although we lost the organization of the tiny few things we put in, he put us in decent positions."

Creating his own offense

When the initial action doesn't create an open look, Butler has the ability to make something productive out of nothing.

On the play below, he attacks Evan Fournier’s closeout and pulls up for a smooth mid-range jumper.


The Sixers were sorely missing Butler’s shot creation ability. Even as he learns the nuances of the Sixers' offensive system, he can make a big immediate impact just by improvising and making intelligent plays.

Here, Butler denies Amir Johnson's ball screen and slithers through the defense for an easy lay-up.

Moving off the ball

Butler was excellent against the Magic at reading the situation and cutting hard into open space, like on the play below.

He was constantly alert for opportunities to cut back door and take advantage of his man falling asleep, as D.J. Augustin did on this play.

He caught Fournier off balance on this play early in the game, and Embiid delivered a nice bounce pass to Butler, who hung in the air for a tough finish.

Defense

We already knew that Butler is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. 

He's a tenacious on-ball defender, as you can see in the sequence below. Butler hounds Fournier, not giving the Magic guard any space to drive, and eventually forcing a shot clock violation.

Wednesday, we saw how Butler now has the luxury of being ultra-aggressive with a rim protector of Embiid’s caliber behind him. On the play below, Butler is a step behind Fournier, but it doesn’t matter — Embiid blocks him at the rim.

Though Butler allowed penetration from Augustin on this third-quarter play, Embiid's presence deterred Augustin from attempting a shot.

With Embiid roaming the paint, Butler should be free to gamble for steals and play tight, physical defense. The worst-case scenario of him getting beat off the dribble results in his man encountering Embiid in the paint. That's not such a bad result for the Sixers.

As Brown continues to integrate Butler, we should see some more creative options that capitalize on his strengths as a shot creator and ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. Butler already gave a sense of the different dimensions he can add to the Sixers' offense in his debut just by playing within himself and reading the game off a couple basic sets.

There's every reason to think Butler can grow into a more diverse, effective role that incorporates his outside shooting (he attempted just one three-pointer in his debut) and playmaking abilities. He's a legitimate two-way star capable of fitting well into just about any offense. Wednesday gave us an early sense of what he brings to the table and how he fits alongside Simmons and Embiid.

We'll learn much more once he has the chance to play a few games with his new team, as Brown and Butler himself develop a greater understanding of how to maximize Butler's talents.

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Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford makes a donation for coronavirus relief in Dominican Republic, regions where he's played in United States

Al Horford has donated $500,000 to support coronavirus relief in the Dominican Republic, as well as in each region of the United States where he's played for a team, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Horford’s father Tito was the first Dominican-born NBA player, and Al was born in the country. The family later moved to Michigan, where Horford attended Grand Ledge High School. He went to the University of Florida and has played for three NBA cities — Atlanta, Boston and Philadelphia. 

Several other members of the Sixers organization have also made charitable donations during the coronavirus pandemic. Joel Embiid has pledged to donate $500,000 to COV-19 medical relief efforts. Ben Simmons launched “The Philly Pledge,” an initiative which encourages donations to Philabundance and the PHL COVID-19 Fund that’s received support from a wide range of Philadelphia athletes, among them teammates Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, Norvel Pelle and Marial Shayok. 

Sixers managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer have made several donations related to coronavirus relief, including to Philabundance and to CHOP and Cooper Hospital.

Limited partner Michael Rubin aims to have his company Fanatics produce a million masks and gowns for hospital and emergency healthcare workers. 

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Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

Sixers Home School: The night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan

There's a lot of home schooling going on right now, so why not use some of this time to learn more about the history of your favorite teams? In this edition of Sixers Home School, we look back at the night Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan.

In a vacuum, rookie Allen Iverson crossing over the legendary Michael Jordan on March 12, 1997, at what was then known as the CoreStates Center was impressive enough.

Putting it into context makes you understand just how big of a deal it was at the time.

The 21-year-old Iverson was having a strong rookie campaign after the Sixers drafted him No. 1 overall. He was still a month away from setting an NBA rookie record with five straight games of 40-plus points. He wasn’t sporting what would become his trademark cornrows — though he did rock them when he won MVP of the Schick Rookie Game. 

This night was when he began to really put a bow on what would turn into a Rookie of the Year season.

As for Jordan and the Bulls, they were ho humming their way to a 69-win season and their fifth title in seven years. Jordan was 33, and though his game had evolved, he was as dominant as ever. Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman provided all the help he would need.

But on this night, it wasn’t about the Bulls, who celebrated receiving their championship ring ceremony by trouncing the Sixers and shutting down Iverson earlier in the season.

This was about the kid from Hampton, Virginia. The six-foot guard from Georgetown that grew up idolizing His Airness, but also told a coach back in high school that he was good enough to take him. 

“I remember the first time I played against him,” Iverson said in his Hall of Fame speech. “I walked out on the court and I looked at him, and for the first time in my life a human being didn’t look real to me.”

Though the first time the two actually talked was not necessarily cordial.

“The first time I ever talked to him was that year playing in the Rookie Game,” Iverson said in an interview with Complex. “I’ll never forget it because he said, ‘What’s up, you little b----?’ I’ll never forget it.”

Whether the moment provided extra motivation or what, Iverson was at times the best player on the court — which, given who was on the court, is a hell of a statement.

Iverson would finish with a game-high 37 points and foul out in a four-point loss. No, the Sixers didn’t win that night, but the fact that Iverson nearly willed a team full of guys like Scott Williams, Mark Davis and Rex Chapman to a victory over that juggernaut was remarkable.

But over the course of time, nobody remembers — or really cares — who won that game. It was the moment A.I. crossed over M.J. It wasn’t quite a torch-passing moment as Jordan would go on to win another MVP and championship, but it was a clear indication that Philadelphia had drafted a star.

That highlight dominated every sportscast the following day and had Sixers fans' imaginations running wild.

The legend of Iverson only continued to grow from there as he became one Philadelphia’s most celebrated athletes and joined his idol in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.

Years later, he spoke to Jordan about the moment he got him with his legendary crossover.

“I went to a Charlotte game and I was telling him how much he meant to me and how I rocked with him,” Iverson went on to say in the interview with Complex. “He was like, ‘Man, you don’t rock with me like that because you wouldn’t have crossed me like that.’”

For as much as Iverson had idolized Jordan, his desire to beat him and be the best outweighed that.

“I always knew that once I got to the league, I was going to try my move on the best,” Iverson said, “so he was just a victim that night.”

That night, a star was born and a legacy was just beginning.

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