Will Butler to the 76ers give the push necessary to topple the East?

Jonathan Kim

In a blockbuster trade to send an ailing and frustrated Timberwolves Star into the rival Eastern Conference, Jimmy Butler has found himself in a contending position to conquer the East without Lebron James.  The Raptors, Bucks, and Celtics all seem to have favorable positions to also fight for a chance at the Western champions, but have the Sixers advanced the standings?  How do the Timberwolves advance?

For this trade to hit, both of those metrics must improve. As a four-time All-Defense selection, there’s little doubt Butler will elevate the team on that end. However, the Sixers’ major issues are on offense, and it’s hard to find numbers that suggest this trade will fix them. Last year’s Sixers ranked 14th in offensive efficiency. They’re worse this year, and it’s not clear how Butler solves that, especially considering any gains he brings must offset the losses of Dario Saric and Robert Covington.

Saric and Covington aren’t stars like Butler, but they fit nicely next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Today’s best NBA offenses pair creators with stretchy, off-ball sharpshooters. Simmons is the kind of youthful on-ball maestro most teams crave, yet Philly just sent Minnesota a big chunk of its spacing for another ball-hungry dribbling machine. It’s akin to a car trading its two rear tires for a second steering wheel.

This doesn’t add up, at least not yet. Butler, Simmons, and Embiid form an impressive core, but one in desperate need of perimeter help. Simmons can’t shoot. Butler and Embiid offer limited 3-point offense. Philly ranks 16th in the NBA in effective field goal percentage (eFG%), and it’s hard to see how that will rise with Butler in the mix. Both Saric (.541) and Covington (.534) put up bigger numbers in this key metric than Butler (.512) did last year. (Saric’s shooting is way down this season, but Second Spectrum data shows his eFG% is 10 percent worse than expected given the quality of his looks. He’s bound to bounce back.)

One thing is for sure:  only time will tell.