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Jimmy Butler’s finishing ability at the rim adds potential to Sixers offense

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Philadelphia’s talented wing provides an element Robert Covington and Dario Saric failed to bring to the Sixers

Philadelphia 76ers v Washington Wizards Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers dispatched a balanced Indiana Pacers team Thursday, after posting a ‘modest’ 149 points against Minnesota Tuesday. Against his former team, Jimmy Butler illustrated his three-level scoring ability, making 3s, swishing a fadeaway baseline jumper, and dunking an alley-oop feed from Ben Simmons, among other made shots. Conversely, against Indiana, Butler punished the Pacers primarily via dribble penetration and looks at the rim.

In the Pacers game, Butler finished with 27 points and only took two 3-point attempts. Butler doled out most of his damage within the 3-point arc, and Indiana’s non-existent answer to Butler’s scoring barrage played a part in the Sixers’ statement road win. Courtesy of House of Highlights, count how many times in this compiled highlight reel he contributed slashing on- and off-ball.

Butler turns Bojan Bogdanovic into grilled chicken drenched in barbecue sauce. Merging agility with power while handling the ball, he is a menace to guard when heading downhill. Jimmy Butler is physical off the dribble and adept at converting. Per Basketball-Reference, Butler is shooting a career-high 74.6 percent from shots three feet and in. Additionally, he is attempting his highest percentage of those attempts (33.2 percent) since the 2014-15 season.

Media has noted Butler’s reluctance to shoot from distance, reflected by his .203 three-point attempt rate. How is he finding an avenue to compensate for his diminished 3-point shooting as a Sixer? Well, we might have found an answer to that question in his shot attempts at the rim. Butler is tied for 42nd in the NBA by taking 10.0 field goal attempts on driving situations, per NBA Stats, making 44.3 percent of his looks there. Since first taking the floor for Philadelphia on November 14, Butler has raised that percentage to 47.7 percentage, increasing his value when finishing at the rim.

How does Butler’s success as a slasher and off-ball cutter impact Philadelphia’s offense? Head coach Brett Brown can design more plays for a talent who can effectively put pressure on defenses heading towards the basket, over those who don’t. Butler’s chiseled 6-foot-8, 232-pound frame, coupled with solid agility for a wing, opens up lob opportunities, as evidenced by his roll to the rim around Embiid when Ben Simmons connected with him in stride for an alley-oop dunk.

Butler’s affinity for pick-and-roll sets plays into his physical trait combinations. Factor in his mid-range potency plus driving capability and Philadelphia has a wing to complement Joel Embiid in those situations. Brett Brown touched upon wanting to amplify the Jimmy Butler-Joel Embiid pick-and-roll tandem. With Butler forcing defenders to go over screens to honor his shooting and a pick-and-pop/pick-and-roll big man in Embiid serving as an outlet, Brett Brown could be in bliss utilizing Butler’s slashing.

Acquiring Butler’s talents on both ends required general manager Elton Brand to part with two rotation talents in Robert Covington and Dario Saric. Covington was an off-ball defensive whiz who could provide substantial impact as a 3-and-D wing, while Saric’s effort and personality shined at the Wells Fargo Center. For all of their contributions, however, they weren’t reliable slashers off the dribble. Covington’s lack of agility and touch rendered him as a limited offensive wing, while Saric’s athleticism hindered that aspect of his offensive game.

With their limitations, the duo constricted Brown’s offensive sets to where pick-and-roll situations featuring the two as ball handlers didn’t pack the punch of a Jimmy Butler. The Sixers’ offense falls tiers below those of more versatile organizations, but now they have more opportunity to move the ball and reduce stagnation.

Just beginning a very difficult stretch of games, the Sixers are 19-8 in games Jimmy Butler has played in this season. With the 29-year-old wing converting at the rim, playing superb two-way basketball, and still figuring out the nuances alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler’s presence has Philadelphia in a competitive state.