All season long, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown indicated that the team’s offense would likely be tweaked once the postseason came around. In particular, he made it clear that Jimmy Butler would have the ball in his hands more. As far back as January, Brown discussed running more pick-and-roll action with Butler, saying, “Some of it is thinking ahead about what a playoff situation could look like.”
It should not come as a surprise, then, that we’re seen more Point Jimmy thus far in the postseason. After Game 1, when the rest of his teammates in the starting lineup were collectively sleepwalking or playing injured (and thus, not inclined to help his assist totals), Butler recorded back-to-back 7-assist games, four helpers in an ejection-shortened Game 4 outing, and five across reduced minutes of the Game 5 series-ending blowout.
Beyond the raw assists totals, the numbers support the idea that Jimmy toted the rock more against Brooklyn. Per NBA.com Stats, Butler finished 4.4 possessions per game as the pick-and-roll ball handler during the regular season, resulting in 0.84 points per possession for the Sixers. In the postseason, that number has risen to 6.4 possessions per game, with increased effectiveness at 0.97 points per possession, a solid number when you consider these plays are only taking place in a half-court context.
Now the official backup point guard, Butler has continued to develop his pick-and-roll chemistry with backup center Boban Marjanovic, often eschewing the use of the pick itself as the defender anticipates having to fight around Boban’s enormous frame. Here, Butler keeps to his right and wings a pass underneath the basket to a cutting Tobias Harris:
The option is also always there to loft it up to the big man himself:
However, Butler hasn’t only been Point Jimmy with the second unit, actually also handling the ball more when he and point guard Ben Simmons are in the game together. I know we all enjoyed villainizing Jared Dudley, but his “great in transition, average in the half court” assessment of Simmons wasn’t some wild, out-of-nowhere idea, at least up to this point in Ben’s career. It’s no secret that Simmons’ inability/reluctance to shoot the ball reduces his effectiveness with the ball in his hands when the defense is locked in and set up in the half court.
However, Simmons made adjustments in this postseason, one of which was operating more as a cutter. In the Brooklyn series, Ben finished 3.4 possessions per game as a cutter, good for an outstanding 1.71 points per possession. Those numbers were up from his regular season figures of 2.7 possessions per game and 1.30 points per possession.
In whatever way you want to designate it, Simmons was just a more active player off the ball in the Brooklyn series. On this Game 2 sequence, rather than just hanging around in the dunker’s spot where he’d contribute to congestion around the basket, Simmons heads to the open area at the top of the paint, where he can toss in a short hook shot.
Later, in Game 5, the Sixers run this well-designed play for Simmons to feint at setting a pick out top for T.J. McConnell, before running off a Jonah Bolden back-screen for the alley-oop slam.
Plays like that one show how moving Ben off the ball can help the always-fraught Simmons-McConnell pairing, something we could see more of if Mike Scott misses time in the Toronto series with his heel injury.
Finally, though this is in transition rather than the half court, we see these two main ideas merge with Butler driving hard to the foul line and hitting a cutting Simmons for the slam.
Everyone fully recognizes the challenge ahead for the Sixers in facing a talented and deep Toronto roster. Philadelphia is going to have to be on top of its game, both in terms of execution and in maximizing the team’s own abundant talent. Both using Butler as a primary ball handler and having Simmons wreck havoc off the ball in a half-court setting proved beneficial for the Sixers against Brooklyn. We should expect more of the same as Philadelphia heads abroad.