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How Brett Brown Should Use Jimmy Butler

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Butler brings with him a skillset the Sixers have not had — this piece will detail how should they use him to broaden their offensive attack.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Press Conference Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Fun Facts:

  • Evan Turner has played more minutes in his career than Jimmy Butler
  • Going back to 2011, Al Horford has averaged more minutes per game than Jimmy Butler
  • Despite having played only the 53rd most minutes over that span, he’s 17th in Win Shares
  • His next contract will end with him being younger than current LeBron, CP3, or Millsap

So let’s pump the breaks on the “but Thibs played him sooo much...” stuff.


Much has been said about Butler’s aptitude to “go get you a bucket” in late shot-clock and end-of-game scenarios — this is undoubtedly a valuable skill. This piece will take a broader focus on how Brett Brown can augment the entire halfcourt offense with Butler.

What Butler Does Best

This is a breakdown of how efficiently Butler scores by different play-types.

  • One third of his buckets came as the Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler
  • Another 13 split evenly among Isolation, Transition, and Spot-Upsituations.
  • The last 13 is mostly opportunistic plays like Cuts, Handoffs, and Putbacks.

BBall Index confirms what we see in the Synergy stats. In fact, Butler is the only high-usage player who received a B- or better in every single category last season. This is to say, he’s one of the few players who can exert himself on offense & the rest of his game does not slip, ala Kawhi Leonard.

Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler

Via Nylon Calculus:

These possessions include pull-ups, floaters, and shots at the rim & ones in which the ball-handler shoots before even dribbling off of the screen, as well as when he denies the ball screen and dribbles away from the pick.

These are surprisingly much lower scoring possessions that you might guess, but the offense generated from the pass outs to cuts, rolls, and spot ups are fairly high scoring. The lower average scoring efficiency of these shots is likely from the number that end up being pull-up mid-range shots.

Butler averages 0.912 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler, which is, overall, an suboptimal form of offense, but quite valuable in late shot-clock situations. In this clip, he puts the defender “in jail,” freezes the big man, draws the contact and finishes with an easy foul-line jumper. You’d like to see Markelle Fultz steal some of this:

Here’s a three off a pick-and-roll in semi-transition. Hopefully something Brett Brown drills in Butler’s (and Redick’s) head is that a contested 3 is still better than an open pullup from long-2.

Redick connected on nearly 51% of those pullup 2s last season, which relative to the league, is an extremely good percentage. That is good for 1.02 points per possession — not bad!

When Redick was guarded tightly (defender 2-4 feet), he connected on 44/104 of his three-point attempts. This is what stings — those possessions are an astounding 1.27 points per possession.

Not only should Redick shoot more contested threes and let his FG% percentage suffer, but he should shoot more off-the-dribble as well. He can actually hit a three off-the-bounce when he has a screen set to his right and he can turn into it — just encourage him to do that two or three times per game.

Got side-tracked talking about Redick, so here’s what I’d like to see out of Butler, a modernized version of his pick-and-roll attack:

Butler, unlike Redick, should not shoot contested threes. He has never demonstrated to be effective in hitting them in his career, hitting just 9/41 (21.9%) last year and limited success in prior years.

The Butler-Embiid two-man game has the potential to be deadly. Have Embiid start doing tennis ball drills ASAP so the Sixers can run plays like this, which take advantage of Butler’s ability to attract the attention of the defense:

The Most Lethal Action In The NBA — The Cut

This category includes backdoor cuts and dump-offs as “basket cuts”. UCLA cuts and flex cuts also fall into this category as “screen cuts”. “Flash cuts” are the third subgroup within the cut category. These include times a player, without a screen, cuts out or toward the ball to receive it (like for a V/shuffle cut).

This is outdated by a year, but this chart details the league-wide PPP for each play-type:

So you may see Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler as the least efficient form of offense and get frightened that Butler will cripple the Sixers efficiency — do not despair!

The reality is that having a ball-handler who can score out of the pick-and-roll opens up many more opportunities for efficient offense — especially plays like open threes, back cuts, and lobs.

You can only segue into talking about cuts by first talking about post-ups. The Sixers have the 4th most post-ups per game in the NBA this season.

If you watch the Nuggets or Warriors, they don’t use post-ups to score that often. They use post-ups to put tall players in a perfect spot to put simultaneous inside-out pressure on the defense, where they can locate shooters and cutters.

The best use of post-ups is to pass the ball there, run off-ball screens or do split cuts, try to get shots for the cutters and off-screen shooters there, and after those options don’t work, then attacking in the post becomes Plan B.

A play like this works nicely.

Key:

  • Draymond Green = Ben Simmons
  • Steph Curry = JJ Redick
  • Klay Thompson = Jimmy Butler

Videos courtesy of 3ball.io

JJ Redick is a deadly screener because his defender must stay attached to his body, Butler is a lethal cutter, and Simmons can easily deliver the pass over the defense.

Here you could run a 3-man game with Simmons, Embiid & Butler:

Even simple post-ups can turn into backdoor alley-oops:

On this play after a made basket, Jeff Teague throws a halfcourt lob to Butler who beat the sleeping Bogdanović down the court. You could manufacture plays like this by having a big man set a back screen on Butler’s man.

Have Embiid stand at the foul line pretending he’s going to set a pindown for Butler, who then goes backdoor for the lob from Simmons:

As a Screener

Three-level scorers are not used as screeners often enough. In fact, this may be the single-best form of half-court offense that exists.

Butler is a simultaneous threat to cut for an alley-oop, come around a pindown for an elbow jumper, or come off a flare screen for a wing-3, the defense can’t cheat against him.

When they defense has to stay glued to you on all areas of the court, you become a categorically effective screener. Brett Brown knows this, using his guards as screeners more than anyone in the league last year:

I’d like to see Butler up there as well. Screen assists are not a zero-sum game and they should start incorporating more off-ball action that runs simultaneous to their primary action.

I found some examples where Brown employed this ideology, usually to great success:

Then there are frequent bad shots or turnovers like this in late-clock scenarios:

Brett Brown’s philosophy is to keep the shooters spaced out as far as possible to allow Embiid to operate down-low. I understand the logic behind that, but I think it could be improved.

At times, the shooters should be setting screens for each other during Embiid’s post-up, or during the Redick-Embiid two man game, or when Ben Simmons catches it in the high-post. This is achievable with the Sixers current roster and highly effective.

This would be a fun lineup:

  • Simmons
  • Redick
  • Shamet
  • Butler
  • Muscala

Basically you have Simmons pick whether he’s gonna do a “flip-screen” with one of the shooters, drive to score, or drive to find someone in the corner.

5-out is really the new wave, but it only works if you can defend. Ben Simmons as the 4/5 on defense makes a lot of sense when he’s surrounded with shooters:

Adding someone can fill that vacant 3&D role will go along way to bolstering lineups with Simmons as the primary ballhandler. This is pretty easy offense despite nobody fearing Antetokounmpo’s jump shot:

Here’s my list of names to fill that final roster spot & their corresponding scenarios:

  • Kyle Korver (1-year buyout)
  • Nikola Mirotic (UFA 2019)
  • Kemba Walker (Trade for [UFA 2019])
  • Otto Porter (Trade for [$27M for next 3 years]
  • Jeremy Lamb [Trade for [UFA 2019}
  • Kevin Durant [Pipe Dream UFA 2019]
NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Detroit Pistons Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Elton Brand has hinted they want to “do some damage” with that last roster spot, do you think this team can do some damage?

That bench is ridiculously thin, but you’re a contender now. You can justify adding a bi-annual exception player (Brook Lopez for MIL this year) for ~$3M/year, the mid 20s draft pick, and a couple veteran minimums who want to make a run. You could do all this and potentially avoid paying a luxury much of a luxury bill.

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