By now you know that the national media hates Philadelphia. They’re out to get us. Everybody but Kyle Brandt.
Add Zach Lowe to the list of measured takers after writing a very good and expansive Sixers column for ESPN today, a thought-out article that puts numerous points of contention into proper context.
You could probably preface any discussion about a rising team by pointing out that most problems are going to be good problems to have. We’re sitting here talking about fitting three superstars together on the court, when most NBA teams do not have anything resembling this kind of top-end talent on the roster. The whole Butler/Simmons/Embiid exercise might be laborious, but I think every good squad navigates something similar at some point.
Seriously, when’s the last time the Sixers had to solve this “problem?” It’s been a long time since the days of surrounding Allen Iverson with anybody and everybody in an attempt to push the squad over the top, but what we got was more of an “Iverson plus seven role players” type of configuration, year-in and year-out. It was Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook in a different epoch.
The Sixers know Embiid and Simmons are an awkward fit on offense. They know the history of young star duos portends a clash for control. They notice when two stars duck into the post at the same time, almost bumping each other.
They understand stashing Simmons in the dunker spot is an inelegant solution to getting him out of the way while Embiid posts up.
They feel the tension between a fast-break sprinter and a back-it-down bully. “That Ben is one of the three or four fastest players in the league — and that the game can sometimes just run past Joel — is both a blessing and a curse,” Brett Brown says. “Joel needs the ball. This isn’t the 100-meter dash. Ben is getting better at recognizing that.”
That’s the key to me, and one of the problems from the Christmas Day loss in Boston. Ben’s liabilities are in the half court, where he just needs to feel his way through tight fourth quarter situations better than he currently is. It’s on Brett Brown to help a young “point guard” navigate those situations and not run his All-Star center ragged.
More, after the jump:
Philly just got Butler, like, yesterday. Simmons has played 122 regular-season games. Philly is 18-9 since Butler suited up, and ranked eighth in points per possession. The Sixers’ healthy starting five is obliterating opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions — evidence that the stars work fine with legit starters around them.
All three have the talent and smarts to eventually wring more from what will always be an imperfect stylistic fit.
Butler has given up the most. He has finished only 18.7 percent of Philadelphia’s possessions when he plays with Simmons and Embiid — the usage rate of a role player. “At times, Jimmy doesn’t get the touches he needs,” Brown says. “That is true.”
Tough. This is usually how you win championships: join three great players, and figure out who needs to sacrifice what, and when, to beat top teams. The Warriors spoiled us into thinking that process is clean and easy. They are an anomaly, blessed with three of the greatest shooters ever — guys who remain useful and comfortable (to varying degrees) off the ball.
Yep. Look at how the Warriors had to adjust after bringing in Kevin Durant. Sometimes it’s the free flowing Steph Curry ball that the Sixers tried to copy, and sometimes they slow it down and let KD do his thing. Those guys don’t all get along, but they make it work.
Brett Brown alluded to all of this when we asked him about the film session confrontation on Saturday. The Sixers “bread is buttered” with Joel Embiid, and it trickles down from there. Butler is playing in a different system, he’s not the top guy, and that’s something he’s going to have to accept. It doesn’t mean he can’t take 13-15 shots per game. He’s just going to have to realize that if he wants to win, as he says he does, that he might not be first in the pecking order on a team that is better than Minnesota or his Chicago squads.
Or, if we see more of this moving forward, it’ll just need to be executed more cleanly:
Lowe goes on to spit ball on some Ben Simmons trade scenarios to round out the column, which are interesting. I personally don’t see the point of trading him for a non-point guard, since Markelle Fultz is a total question mark and T.J. McConnell has his limitations.
But I think where I agree with him the most is on this point:
Depth is the Sixers’ biggest current problem. There may be more depth coming. Jonah Bolden has been solid. There is still hope within the team that Zhaire Smith may return this season. The buyout market looms. Philly will have cap space again this summer.
For those eager to deal Simmons, finding a two-man package as young, talented, and plug-and-play ready as the Murray/Harris duo is almost impossible. You veer quickly into “dollar for three quarters” trades. If the Sixers ever reach the point of investigating Simmons’ trade value, they should look for one youngish blue-chipper and some minor supplementary piece.
More or less.
Ready the story, it’s good.