The Minnesota Timberwolves traded disgruntled star Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers, giving them a fascinating new look as a team.
Butler, 29, is a four-time All-Star who’s also known as one of the best defenders in the league. While it’s unclear what the 76ers’ starting lineup is going to look like, these are our projections (allowing room for variance) of what the squad will look like when they take the court for the first time with Butler in the fold.
Markelle Fultz, Guard
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz has started all 12 games he has played so far this season. So until reported otherwise, even if it’s just to help him regain his confidence, one would have to assume that Fultz will remain with the first unit. Fultz is averaging 13.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists per 36 minutes for Philadelphia. He has been mostly used as a primary ballhandler in a pick-and-roll offense.
As such, head coach Brett Brown has staggered the minutes of Fultz with Ben Simmons (two non-shooters) recently. Simmons and Fultz played 12.5 minutes per game together during the first six games of the season and have since averaged just 7.7 minutes per game on the court at the same time. The Sixers have been outscored by 1.9 points per 100 possessions when both are on the court so far this season. Fultz is scoring 9.5 points per 36 minutes when playing alongside Simmons, but 15.1 points per 36 when Simmons isn’t on the court.
JJ Redick, Guard
Shooting guard JJ Redick has tremendous value in the starting lineup because of his shooting ability. Redick has been above average when shooting after handoffs and off screens, creating efficient scoring opportunities for the offense. While he has actually struggled on catch-and-shoot attempts and spot-up shots so far this season, it’s something Redick has been fantastic at in the past and it’s safe to assume it’s just a slow start. Once he gets back to form on these looks as well, the team will have better opportunities to space the floor and clear out room for their bigs to drive. He’s also a proven veteran leader and having him in the starting lineup helps the other players alongside him (particularly the young starters).
Jimmy Butler, Forward
After swinging and missing on both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the offseason, landing Jimmy Butler on the wing was the next best weapon. One of the better two-way players in the league, Butler will provide immediate intensity on both offense and defense. The four-time All-Star is among the most feared one-on-one scorers in the league. But he can also make his presence felt in a transition offense and he’s also incredible when cutting to the basket. As a three-point shooting threat, Butler can also step for an occasional spot-up look to drain an open shot from beyond the arc. He is a more ball-dominant player than Robert Covington or Dario Saric, so it’ll be an interesting fit next to Ben Simmons and potentially Fultz.
Ben Simmons, Point Forward
Simmons is a fantastic defender and playmaker who can score near the basket. He and Butler will be a lethal duo guarding defenders on the perimeter. Inevitably, on offense, he will create fantastic opportunities for Butler to excel. As mentioned earlier, it’s entirely possible that Philadelphia would prefer to completely stagger the minutes of Simmons and Fultz. If this happened, one would assume Simmons would continue to run the point with Wilson Chandler replacing Fultz in the starting unit and lining up at power forward.
Outside of Chandler, they have some other options if they move Fultz to the bench. They could offer the starting gig to TJ McConnell or rookie Landry Shamet, both of whom are capable of fitting in there. Shamet is actually the best shooter of that group, which Philadelphia definitely needs with Simmons running the offense. Meanwhile, later down the road, there could be a veteran who fits right in with Philly following a buyout, much like there was last year when they signed Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli.
Joel Embiid, Big Man
Once again, the key to the success of the organization will be the long-term health and development of Joel Embiid. The big man is already one of the most impressive players in the league in the paint and perhaps the best post-up player in the NBA. He is one of the league’s top players when crashing the boards for rebounds, too. Expect him to continue to succeed in transition and when cutting to the basket. Considering that Butler is expected to re-sign to a long-term deal, the core of him with Simmons and Embiid is going to be one of the best in the Eastern Conference for several years. If their chemistry is on point and they remain healthy, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.