The Sixers need more production out of Jimmy Butler

The Sixers need more production out of Jimmy Butler

When the Sixers traded for Jimmy Butler in November, they needed him like Bryan Colangelo needs extra starch in his collar. Two game-winners in eight days proved that. What you make of Butler’s play of late is arguable, whether he’s simply doing what the coaches have asked — as he’s said repeatedly — or he’s caught in some funk as country-music-loving, minivan-riding, Neymar fans are known to do. Either way, the time for duality is over.

What the Sixers need now with eight games left in the season and a tenuous hold on the third seed in the East is the Butler who once scored 40 points in a half with the Bulls, breaking Michael Jordan’s 27-year-old record with the team, and not a black Tim McGraw — although according to his teammates, he is humble and kind. Just ask Shake Milton.

I was convinced Butler was the answer to the Sixers’ fluorescent need of a player who could create his own shot and lock down the opposing team’s best player, especially after hearing him express his desire to simply win, as a guest on JJ Redick’s podcast in December. 

I was even more enthralled after listening to him on Chris Haynes’ podcast in which he recanted cutting his teeth in a tough love environment with the 50-win Bulls and MVP Derrick Rose during his rookie season. I thought his defense and scoring would force the Sixers to give him a max contract this summer (he currently has a year left on his deal with a player option worth just under $20 million). But just like Tony told Manolo in the movie Scarface, “The eyes chico, they never lie.”

My eyes are telling me that this isn’t the same guy who led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (he’s now tied for 10th on that list at 6.7 ppg). His body language is off. He’s not as aggressive on the offensive or defensive end, but if I’m honest, one clutch bucket can make you forget all that.

The Sixers ranked last in the league in 2017-18 in fourth-quarter offensive rating and were near the bottom again this season before Butler’s arrival. I think he and Tobias Harris both need to be on the team next season. Harris is 26, can score without getting plays called for him and is having a borderline 50-40-90 season. Back up the Brinks truck. 

If Butler opts out (as he would be smart to do in order to secure another big money deal), I’m not offering him anything more than a three-year deal with a team option after two. He turns 30 before the start of next season and has played an average of 45 games over the last three seasons partly because of his all-out playing style.

If Butler can turn it on in the postseason and be the stalwart two-way player Sixers fans long for, the team could be destined for the Eastern Conference finals and beyond. A Butler who simply blends in for three quarters and turns it up in the fourth is a nice novelty to have but could be the split hoof on a championship pedigree thoroughbred.

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Brett Brown's decision to have Furkan Korkmaz play key minutes in overtime, using more pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid, and the loss to the Thunder.

• Should Brown have gone to Korkmaz when Tobias Harris fouled out in overtime?

• Do the Sixers need to rework their offense?

• The starting lineup looked good at times, but what went wrong in OKC?

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