The Sixers stand at 18-9 after beating the Grizzlies on Sunday, losing to the Raptors on Wednesday, and topping the Pistons on Friday. They’re alone in second place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Bucks and three games behind Toronto. Let’s get right into observations from this week:
2 crazy Jimmy Butler stats
Butler likely can’t keep up this type of production forever, but it’s fun to watch while it lasts. These two stats help put what Butler has been doing in context:
• Butler had 37 fourth-quarter points this week, most in the NBA, on 12 for 20 shooting from the floor, 12 of 13 from the foul line.
• Dating back to the 1983-1984 season, when full game logs became available, Jeff Hornacek is the only other Sixer besides Butler with 38 or more points, six or more assists, and zero turnovers in a game, per Basketball-Reference. Butler posted those numbers Friday night against the Pistons in a snarling, devilishly smiling performance that the Sixers desperately needed with Joel Embiid resting.
Hornacek had 39 points, nine assists and no turnovers in the Sixers’ 126-115 win over the Celtics on Nov. 13, 1992.
Embiid-Butler issues overblown
Speaking of Embiid, his recent comments about being frustrated with the way he’s used are, of course, not ideal from a Sixers perspective. They’re not, however, an indication of grave trouble bubbling within the team.
As we detailed Saturday, Embiid’s usage has actually been nearly identical before and after Butler’s arrival. The only stats that are significantly down are his field goal percentage and his free throw shooting, which are probably more an indication of his three-game slump than anything else.
It’s worth emphasizing the other, under-covered part of Embiid’s remarks, both after Wednesday’s game in Toronto and before Friday's game in Detroit to the Inquirer's Keith Pompey.
“I've got to do a better job,” Embiid told reporters Wednesday. “It’s on me. I haven’t been efficient and got to make sure I work on my game.”
“My body feels great, and it’s just I haven’t been playing well,” he told Pompey Friday.
You could argue Embiid should have made that his only public stance and omitted any concerns or frustrations with his offensive role. But, as Embiid has proved time and time again, he’s not a diplomatic personality, not the type to hold himself back from saying what he feels to be true at the moment. In most cases, it makes him a lovable figure to fans — he’s the rare player who’s not afraid to say of opposing big men that he “kicked both of their a--.”
One or two other times, it’s put the Sixers in a slightly awkward spot — his Instagram post after watching the Sixers’ loss to the Heat in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs about being “F---ing sick and tired of being babied” as he waited to return from a left eye orbital fracture comes to mind.
Ultimately, the narrative that Embiid's remarks signify some sort of discord with Butler is lazy, and there's no evidence to suggest it's true.
What's next with Fultz?
There’s still a ton of uncertainty surrounding Markelle Fultz and his future with the Sixers, but a new diagnosis and a relatively clear path forward is a lot better than having no idea what’s going on.
If Fultz’s rehab for his thoracic outlet syndrome is successful, reintegrating him into the team will no doubt be a challenge. Would he immediately rejoin the rotation? If so, whose minutes would he take? But that scenario would be far preferable to the rehab proving ineffective or a protracted, setback-heavy recovery.
Fultz’s “team” and the Sixers clearly haven’t been on the wavelength, but you’d think it would be in everyone’s best interest for him to eventually return to the court, healthy and with a fluid jump shot intact.
Best win of the year
Brett Brown called Friday’s victory in Detroit the Sixers’ "best win of the season."
He has a strong case, for a number of positive reasons — beating a playoff team on the road without Embiid; Butler and Simmons shining despite their minutes being staggered; Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler each choosing the same night to have their best game as a Sixer.
But there’s also a compelling case for Friday's win being the Sixers’ best victory because they just haven’t beaten many good teams. Seven of the Sixers’ nine losses are to teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. With the exception of Brooklyn and Cleveland, they’ve beaten the teams they’ve been expected to beat, which is great.
As we wrap up the first third of the season, though, it’s apparent the Sixers aren’t quite at the elite, “Eastern Conference royalty” level they aspire to yet, even if the Butler trade has moved them closer to that status. Dec. 22 vs. Toronto and Christmas Day in Boston are their next two major tests.
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