Philadelphia 76ers: Jimmy Butler needs more consistent offensive touches

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Jimmy Butler is the most dynamic scorer on the Philadelphia 76ers’ roster, but if his touches remain incredibly inconsistent, he will continue to disappear.

You can say a lot about the Philadelphia 76ers‘ loss to the Sacramento Kings, but one thing you can’t say Jimmy Butler didn’t give it his all.

Tied for the most points on the team with 29 alongside the always effective Joel Embiid, Butler was an iso ball force in the paint, dominating the likes of Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson, and Bogdan Bogdanovic for entire quarters, while leading the way to a pair of almost single-handed comeback attempts in the second and fourth quarters.

However, the third quarter was a whole ‘nother story.

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After finishing out the first half with 13 points on six shots, Butler only attempted one shot in the third quarter; a missed 19-foot jumper 13 seconds in. Butler still found ways to impact the game, logging three assists, a steal, and a rebound vs. only one turnover, but that’s hardly the production anyone should expect from an All-Star level performer over a nine-minute run.

Why does this keep happening?

When Brett Brown makes a concerted effort to manufacture touches for Butler, the four-time All-Star is absolutely deadly from anywhere on the court, but when he’s left in the flow of the team’s fast-paced, movement-heavy offensive, Butler often disappears for stretches of the game.

Before, one could simply chalk up this ineffectiveness to a sort of feeling out period, as the two sides navigated their new union like a freshly married couple. But now, 31 games and counting into his tenure in the City of Brotherly Love, that claim is getting old. Butler is averaging fewer points, shot attempts, free throw attempts, and 3 point attempts a game by a pretty wide margin, even if the sample size is slightly skewed due to an abbreviated tenure in Minnesota.

Now some of that is to be expected, as Butler is playing an average of four fewer minutes a game and is no longer operating under the supercharged guise of a scorched earth mentality, but on a team where the deep ball is king, how is Jimmy averaging 1.2 less shots from beyond the arc in his new home? Butler is currently averaging 3.2 shots a game from beyond the arc, good for the sixth most on the team behind obvious shooters like J.J. Redick and Landry Shamet, but also Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, and even Joel Embiid.

Yes, you read that right, Joel ‘I hate taking 3s’ Embiid is taking more shots a game from beyond the arc than a player affectionately known as Jimmy Buckets.

That’s just crazy.

The Philadelphia 76ers traded away a pair of much higher volume shooters in Dario Saric and Robert Covington to acquire Butler because of his ability to close out games and score the ball on drives, traits that have been on full display numerous times this season, but so far, the results have been mixed.

While Butler and Chandler have (unsurprisingly) been a net positive in regards to points per game (25.6 vs. 22.5) and a wash as far as shots from the field are concerned (19.9 vs. 19.2), the duo are doing so while taking 4.8 fewer a game from 3 point range, a pretty big difference by Sixers standards. Now, this is obviously a side effect of swapping out two bona fide starters for one, but shouldn’t a player like Butler, when paired with a borderline fifth starter like Chandler, have more of an effect on the team’s production?

I guess not.

Now some of that discrepancy has to be directly correlated to just how ineffective Chandler has been as a small ball power forward, but Butler’s (mis)fit in Coach Brown’s scheme can’t be ignored. Butler needs the ball in his hands to be an effective scorer, and simply isn’t a perfect fit in a catch-and-shoot 3-and-D scheme.

One solution to this problem could be everyone’s new favorite wrinkle to the 76ers offense: Point Jimmy.

Though it may be incredibly… unorthodox for a player to take up ball-handling duties at the tender age of 29, Butler looked like a natural in the Sixers’ 121-105 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. With the ball in his hands, Butler was able to run the show so to speak, and create shots for both himself and his teammates off of an Embiid screen.

I mean, the transition from the wings to the point has worked wonders for James Harden in Houston, leading way to one of the most prolific scoring seasons of all time, so putting a dynamic scorer in a position to makes plays can be incredibly effective.

But no matter how the 76ers decide to better utilize Butler, one thing is clear: If they can’t assimilate him into their scheme, he isn’t going to re-sign with the team for 4-5 more seasons of inconsistency.

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For better or worse, Jimmy Butler thrives in a very specific scheme offensively, and while it may not be the one Brett Brown has been cultivating over the last half-decade, at some point one of the two sides has to make concessions and compromise for the good of the team. Much like when Joel Embiid finally took the court, and Philly had to slow down their at the time fastest pace in the league to accommodate his gargantuan talents, if the Philadelphia 76ers are going to win now and moving forward, they need to modify their scheme to get Butler more consistent touches.