Last week, we speculated about how the Sixers would integrate Jimmy Butler into the team.
This week, it’s fair to say Butler looks like he belongs.
The Sixers went 3-1 over the past seven days to move to 11-7 overall, winning in Miami, losing in Orlando, and beating Utah and Charlotte.
Butler was fantastic all night in his home debut Friday vs. the Jazz, and he was great when it mattered Saturday against the Hornets, making a huge block in overtime on Kemba Walker, then nailing the game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.
• One of Butler’s best qualities is how simple he can make the game. His knowledge of the playbook and his teammates is obviously limited, but he’s not the kind of player who needs to know the nuances of every set to win his team games. At the end of Saturday night’s game, all Brett Brown had to do was get the ball in Butler’s hands and clear out the floor. It’s been a while since the Sixers had a player like that.
• It doesn’t spoil a very positive week, but the Sixers keep blowing big lead after big lead. In each of the last three games, they gave up leads of 16 or more points. Not good.
• Joel Embiid actually hasn’t shot the ball well since Butler arrived (34.9 percent), but he’s still averaging 25 points, 10.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.3 blocks in the past three games. Because of his ability to draw fouls, he doesn't need to have a great shooting night to be dominant offensively.
• Saturday was Ben Simmons’ best performance of the season. While the stat line of 23 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists was impressive, his balance between patient point guard play and aggression in transition was most striking. He went 9 for 11 from the foul line, season highs for both attempts and makes.
• Markelle Fultz’s body language might not exude hustle, but he deserves credit for making winning plays through sheer effort.
Friday night, he tracked down his missed free throw and found Butler for a pivotal and-one layup at the end of the third quarter. Saturday, he soared in to steal a rebound from Miles Bridges and dished it to Mike Muscala for a dunk.
The hustle and the SLAM.— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 18, 2018
Fultz goes in for the board and feeds it over to Moose for a quick slam. Sixers trail by one. pic.twitter.com/bnDpmaNaVp
Fultz’s unusual free throws have gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so. His pump-fake free throw Monday in Miami, which Fultz claimed slipped out of hand, was alarming to watch. And his juggling free throw routine Friday night was also rather bizarre, though it did appear effective at removing most of the hitch from Fultz’s shot.
Through all the concern over his shot and conjecture about what the Butler trade means for his future with the Sixers, Fultz has continued to play hard.
• Even after acquiring Butler, general manager Elton Brand said Tuesday at his new star’s introductory press conference that “the championship talk is a little premature for me.”
One way he plans to get the Sixers closer to title contention is through filling the open roster spot. He acknowledged the team “needs shooting.”
Over the past week, their lack of quality options at the backup power forward and center spots has been easy to see as well. Amir Johnson has not had a very good start to the season — his minus-9.0 net rating is second-worst on the team. His 19.3 turnover percentage is the highest of any Sixer.
Brown seems to recognize that Johnson is usually a liability; he’s only playing him 10.2 minutes per game, which would be a career low for Johnson. The ripple effect of that has been 23.9 minutes per game for Mike Muscala, which would be a career high.
With Wilson Chandler in the starting lineup, leaning so heavily on Muscala and trying to steal 10 solid minutes from Johnson each night does not look like a viable plan. In the short term, it might make sense to give Jonah Bolden a chance.
• The Sixers have played 18 games, most in the NBA, and five back-to-backs. The schedule finally eases up a little starting this week, with a three-game homestand Monday vs. the 3-12 Suns, Wednesday vs. the 9-7 Pelicans and Friday vs. the 2-12 Cavaliers. With their 8-0 record at Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers are the last team in the NBA without a loss at home.
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