For Jimmy Butler, the off-court drama has gotten a lot of headlines — the trade demand, the locker-room arguments, the heated practices.
It’s easy to let all that overshadow Butler the basketball player. In the wake of general manager Elton Brand’s trade for Butler, let’s break down what the Sixers got in Butler, what they gave up and how Butler will fit alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
What they got
The Sixers now have the third star they need to be a viable contender.
In short, Butler is one of the best two-way players in basketball, a four-time All-Star and four-time selection to an All-Defensive team.
Over the past four seasons, Butler has averaged 21.8 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
One quality about Butler that’s often overlooked is how little he turns the ball over relative to his usage rate. He had an 8.9 turnover percentage over the last four years. Given the Sixers’ struggles with turnovers, that’s an appealing skill Butler possesses, albeit a far less important one than his stellar defense or ability to score in isolation.
What they gave up
Saric and Covington were both key players for the Sixers.
Though Saric is understandably beloved for his heart, we saw in the early part of this season how his value diminishes when he’s not making shots. Regardless of the effort he gives, it just doesn’t look like Saric has the tools be a good NBA defender. In the playoffs, opponents will continue to exploit Saric’s lack of quickness, as the Celtics did in May.
Covington, on the other hand, is an exceptional defender. He showed at the beginning of this season that his First Team All-Defense campaign last year was no fluke.
Butler will, of course, take Covington’s job of guarding the opposition’s best perimeter scorer every night. Ironically, Butler and Covington are tied for the third most steals in the NBA this season, with 23 each. Covington also has 23 blocks, by far the most of any wing in the league.
Covington’s three-point shooting may also be missed. While Covington and Butler are close as far as three-point percentage (35.8 percent vs. 35.2 percent over the last four years), Covington was a much higher volume shooter.
The most obvious question is how Butler, Simmons and Embiid will all share the ball.
Embiid should still be the focal point of the Sixers’ offense — he has 77 post-up points this season, 24 more than any other player. His 31 percent usage rate is third in the league.
Butler (22.7 percent usage) and Simmons (21.8 percent) need plenty of touches as well.
Unfortunately, Butler is not the kind of player who can thrive in a secondary, off-ball role. He shot just 33.7 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts last season.
The Sixers may want Butler to increase his volume of three-point attempts, since Butler, JJ Redick, Landry Shamet, and, to a lesser extent, Embiid, are now the team’s only regular three-pointers with Saric and Covington gone.
Given Markelle Fultz’s continued unwillingness to fire from long range (he hasn’t attempted a three in five games) and the fact that Simmons doesn’t appear to have added a mid-range jumper to his game, Butler will need to provide the Sixers some spacing.
Outside of the Sixers’ stars, the trade has wide-reaching implications. Will Fultz stay in the starting lineup, or will Redick return to provide some much-needed shooting? With Saric gone, who starts for the Sixers at the four — Wilson Chandler? Mike Muscala? Should Simmons be used more often in the post to give Butler room to operate on the perimeter?
Brett Brown will have to answer all those questions.
For now, he has another star, one who brings excellent perimeter defense and shot creation, previous weaknesses for the Sixers. When the Sixers need someone to get their own shot with the game on the line in the postseason, throwing it to Embiid is no longer their only option.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.