Says ESPN’s Chad Lowe:
“That Ben is one of the three or four fastest players in the league — and that the game can sometimes just run past Joel — is both a blessing and a curse,” coach Brett Brown says. “Joel needs the ball. This isn’t the 100-meter dash. Ben is getting better at recognizing that.”
Philly just got Butler, like, yesterday. Simmons has played 122 regular-season games. Philly is 18-9 since Butler suited up, and ranked eighth in points per possession. The Sixers’ healthy starting five is obliterating opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions — evidence that the stars work fine with legit starters around them.
All three have the talent and smarts to eventually wring more from what will always be an imperfect stylistic fit.
Embiid can trail fast breaks, grow into an average-ish 3-point shooter, and pump-and-drive past centers who can’t sniff his skill level. He touches the ball in the post about 12.5 times per 100 possessions when all three stars share the floor, per Second Spectrum. He gets more when Simmons is on the bench — about 19 per 100 possessions — but that 12.5 figure is on par with his pre-Butler average. It would rank sixth league-wide. Embiid’s post game has not been marginalized.
Simmons and Butler are smart cutters who can post mismatches. Butler has hit more than 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s over the last three seasons. The Sixers’ shot quality with all three stars on the floor is a hair higher than their overall average, per Second Spectrum; they feast in the restricted area. Three-star lineups have forced a preposterously low number of turnovers for reasons that are unclear and likely random. Toss in more easy transition points, and the numbers look different.
Still, there will be games when it doesn’t flow. Philly has scored more efficiently with any two of the threesome on the court, and the other resting, per NBA.com. Brown senses the strain of pleasing all three.
“I don’t enjoy feeling like a waiter — like I’m serving each of them food,” he says. “Although at times you have to be. Joel needs a touch. Ben needs to be posted. Jimmy needs a play. You hope the offense will dictate who gets shots, but it has been challenging.”
Butler has given up the most. He has finished only 18.7 percent of Philly’s possessions when he plays with Simmons and Embiid — the usage rate of a role player. “At times, Jimmy doesn’t get the touches he needs,” Brown says. “That is true.”