Another month of NBA action is in the books, and February was a busy one for the Sixers. The month started with a road game in Sacramento and a starting lineup of Joel Embiiid, Mike Muscala, Jimmy Butler, Landry Shamet, and Ben Simmons, and it ended with a road game against the Thunder and a starting lineup of Jonah Bolden, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, and Ben Simmons. Markelle Fultz was on this roster at the beginning of February and now is a member of the Orlando Magic. Things change.
What doesn’t change, though, is that fans have #takes about their team. I’ve collected some of those takes that I’ve seen around Twitter over the past month and compiled them here so we can talk about them. Are they overreactions? Are they appropriate takes? Are they somewhere in the middle? Let’s find out.
It’s probably time for Ben to develop a 3-point game or this team won’t ever be a title contender
Ben Simmons did something this month, y’all! You might remember it, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a video:
HE TOOK A THREE AND IT WASN’T AN END OF QUARTER HEAVE!!!
That, of course, got people talking. Was Ben adding the 3 to his game? Would he start taking them more often? Would it greatly expand this team’s upside if he could become a threat from deep?
Let’s address that final question first. Would the Sixers offense have a higher ceiling if Ben Simmons had a reliable 3-point game? Sure! Defenses having to guard him on the perimeter would completely warp the way defenses defend this team, and that would open up the middle of the floor for Joel Embiid to operate. Having more shooters to put around a big man is never a bad thing.
But that’s not the #hottake we’re addressing here. If Ben doesn’t develop that 3-pointer, are the Sixers essentially locked out from ever being a title contender?
That’s...complicated. The history of point guards who don’t have a long-range game is short. Let’s say that Ben ends up taking a 3 every five games or so. Per Basketball Reference, here’s the list of guards to attempt under 20 3s in a season while playing 2,000 minutes since the year 2000, sorted by win shares. (YES I KNOW WIN SHARES ARE NOT THE BEST METRIC TO USE, by the way.)
It’s not a great list, obviously, but there’s one name to zero in on: Rajon Rondo.
The Boston Celtics won the title that season with Rondo attempting just 19 threes. They did this by having Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen around him. This was in a slightly different NBA, of course, where the Celtics got away with starting three non-shooters in Garnett, Rondo, and Kendrick Perkins, but it’s still some evidence that the right supporting cast can help you overcome having a point guard that doesn’t shoot much. (Editor’s note: Garnett isn’t a player considered a bad shooter, obviously, but he went 0-for-11 from 3 that regular season.)
The Sixers have the blueprints for doing that as well. Redick, Harris, Butler, Embiid...you have the potential to build a team that can surround Simmons with effective shooters, and we’ve also seen lately some more times where Simmons is used in the post and Butler runs point. Butler hasn’t been shooting many 3s lately — our Jackson Frank pointed this out earlier on Twitter if you want to see how extreme he’s been lately at avoiding 3s — but he’s going to do more for floor spacing on the perimeter than Simmons will.
I think it would obviously help if Simmons did add some perimeter shooting (he has since attempted his second legitimate 3-point attempt), but I think it’s an overreaction to say that this team can’t win unless he adds it.
Tobias Harris is more important to this team’s success than Jimmy Butler
Man, y’all. This one is TOUGH.
I think we might tend to overrate Harris right now for one reason: he joined this team to fill a position of real need in the starting lineup. We’ve talked all season about the team’s big weakness at the four after trading away Dario Saric, and that Wilson Chandler was very obviously not going to cut it. So, the simple answer is this: Harris might be more important based on what he brought to the team.
But let’s not discount Butler here. The Sixers offensive rating is 4.6 points higher with Butler on the floor and the defensive rating is 1.8 points better. Butler also works better as a ball handler. He’s also the better defender, and while there’s been a drop in some of Butler’s numbers since Harris arrived, Butler getting to focus on defense more has been a good trade off.
But, I don’t know. I personally think Butler is more important in a vacuum, but Harris is probably more important in context? Let’s call this a reasonable take but...yeah, I’m still torn on this one.
After trading for Harris, this team would be better with RoCo and Dario instead of Butler
This would help some of the depth concerns, but I still think having Butler + figuring out the bench later is better than having RoCo and Dario. I love RoCo and Dario, but Butler can take over games in ways they can’t. I know there are long-term concerns about how Butler fits on this roster and what his role is, but having Butler makes it feel like this team is closer to a Finals run. You need those next-level players to win in the playoffs.
Now, I do have some pause here, because there have been concerns about Butler not being in Philly long-term. I know Josh Harris just said he sees both guys re-signing in Philly, but you never know with Butler. I’d rather have Butler than RoCo and Dario, but I’d rather have RoCo and Dario than the existential void that we’ll all feel when Butler leaves and there’s no one around to replace him.
I feel like there is evidence missing that would help us really determine how to rate this reaction, but I lean toward overreaction, even with the possibility of that existential void looming ahead.
I’m not even sure how to vocalize this one in any way that isn’t just typing BOBAN! over and over, but let me give it a try:
“Boban Marjanovic is very fun and needs to be on the floor when he’s healthy” is a thing that a lot of people think. I agree with that first part. I...am less in agreement on the second part. You lose a lot of versatility with Boban on the floor, even if he brings some really, really efficient scoring in the paint. I wrote last week about wanting to see more of Jonah Bolden at the five, and while early results of that are mixed, I don’t think it’s reason to just resign yourself to “OKAY BOBAN GET THIS DONE PLEASE.” Maybe playing more small-ball center with Ben Simmons (or, uhh, Mike Scott???) would help this team run better than giving Boban heavier minutes?
I’d say the Boban hype has been...not necessarily an overreaction, because he’s been fun, but a little bit out of hand.