Coming into the season, the Philadelphia 76ers were viewed as one of the teams that could win the Eastern Conference. Especially with LeBron James traveling West. However, through 13 games, it has been a somewhat disappointing start to the season for them. Although they are 8-5, they’re just 1-5 on the road. Additionally, they currently hold a negative point differential.
Philadelphia looked at the revamped Raptors (12-1); the revitalized Milwaukee Bucks (9-3) under Mike Budenholzer. But that’s not all. Don’t forget about the supremely talented Boston Celtics. Thus, they realized they needed make a splash to have a realistic shot at making the NBA Finals.
So they did just that Saturday, acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Minnesota has traded Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton to Philadelphia for Robert, Covington, Dario Saric and a 2022 second-round draft pick, league sources tell me and @JonKrawczynski.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 10, 2018
They are now the only team in the East with three players playing consistently at an All-Star level. Those three, of course, include Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and now Butler. That being said, figuring out the correct rotations for this team is going to be the deciding factor in whether they can reach their full potential. Losing two starters is certainly going to hurt their depth.
Robert Covington was excellent for the 76ers for what he was asked to do. He was the prototypical 3-and-D wing. After being named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team last season, he followed that up by putting up career-high percentages from three-point range thus far this year.
Additionally, losing Dario Šarić is going to hurt the team’s ability to remain big while keeping shooting on the court. Although he has shot poorly so far this year (36% from the field and 30% from long range), he looks to have found his footing the past two games — with 18 points in back-to-back games on 46% shooting. He was also averaging nearly 7 rebounds per game.
Now when the team wants to keep a big on the floor next to Embiid, they are going to have to use Mike Muscala or Amir Johnson. Both players have yet to see the floor much this season. And we don’t know how they will play when given big minutes, especially come playoff time.
Jimmy is heading to Philly! pic.twitter.com/UsIveML2Ih
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 10, 2018
It’s still unknown as to what starting lineup Brett Brown is going to throw out there now. But the lineup I think is best for this team is a lineup of Simmons, Embiid, Butler, JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler.
Chandler has yet to play big minutes because of a hamstring injury. But assuming he gets fully healthy, he gives the 76ers another versatile wing that can defend multiple position. Not to mention, he spaces the floor (career 34% three-point shooter).
This lineup matches up much more favorably against the other top teams in the East as well, who all play small lineups like this. The Raptors have been using Serge Ibaka at center and Pascal Siakam at power forward. Milwaukee has been using Brook Lopez at center and Giannis Antetokounmpo at power forward. Boston has been using Al Horford at center and Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown at power forward.
With this lineup, the Sixers will be able to switch everything when defending. All the while, keeping floor spacing for Butler and Simmons to drive. Oh, and space for Embiid to post-up.
Furthermore, it doesn’t make sense to keep Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup anymore. With the addition of Butler, Fultz isn’t going to be able to have the ball in his hands if he plays with the starters. Plus, he doesn’t space the floor the way Redick does. Fultz is best suited as the primary ball handler off the bench. And that will give him the best chance to continue his development.
A bench unit of Fultz, TJ McConnell, Landry Shamet, Johnson, and Muscala gives the 76ers a solid group of players behind their three stars.
Simply put, the Jimmy Butler trade makes the 76ers the best team in the East. On paper, at least. There are still questions beyond rotations with this trade. We don’t know how the personalities of all three stars will mesh. However, I don’t see there being a problem. Because despite all of Embiid’s antics off the court — mostly on Twitter — he wants to win as much as anyone in the NBA. That’s all Butler wants to do as well.
Philadelphia’s star-power is something unrivaled by any team in the East outside of Boston. The Celtics are the only team that you can argue has as much talent as the 76ers. But so far, Gordon Hayward has understandably been a shell of himself coming off his injury. And we can’t just assume he’ll ever recapture his All-Star form.
Jayson Tatum is shooting only 40% from the field and has struggled to play at the level he did in the playoffs last season. The fully healthy version of the Celtics hasn’t worked together yet this year, but many think Boston will fix their problems by the postseason. For right now, they’re not playing at the level many believed they would. And it’s a big question mark as to whether or not they ever will reach that level.
If Brett Brown can figure out the correct rotations, this Philadelphia 76ers team could find themselves going up against Golden State in June with the NBA championship on the line.