What have we learned about the Philadelphia 76ers through 23 games?
The Philadelphia 76ers are 15-8, good for third in the Eastern Conference. Here are some observations from the first quarter of the season.
1. The Sixers have a third star (and MVP candidate)
The impact Jimmy Butler has made on the Philadelphia 76ers, as well as the city of Philadelphia, is undeniable. He’s been a member of the team for little over two weeks, and he’s already drained two game-winning signature step-back three point daggers, over Charlotte and Brooklyn, respectively.
He has catapulted the Sixers from potential top 3-4 seed in the East to instant Finals contenders. He fits an immediate need: a two-way player that can score and defend in the clutch. However, the value Jimmy has can’t be easily observed watching a basketball game. He brings veteran leadership, playoff pedigree, and a resilient spirit molded by the exact blue-collar grittiness the city of Philadelphia prides itself on.
As you may or may not know, Jimmy Butler was in many regards, a ‘late bloomer.’ Drafted at No. 30 in the 2011 NBA Draft, Butler spent the first six seasons of his career in Chicago, making the playoffs in all but one season since he’s been in the league, and has gone as far as the conference semifinals twice.
He saw the rise and fall of the youngest MVP the league had ever seen in Derrick Rose, and he learned from his success. He was traded to Minnesota after the relationship between him and the Bulls front office turned sour. He was top dog in both Chicago for a time and in Minnesota, eventually earning All-Star nods in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
He earned some MVP votes last season as a member of the T-Wolves, and is widely considered a top five two-way player in the league, and one of the best wings in the game. He made headlines in Minny after requesting a trade because of his frustration with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins’ nonchalant attitudes towards playing hard defense and doing everything in their power to win games.
Butler, 29 years old, needed to make a statement to speed up the process. He grabbed the third stringers and scrimmaged the starters and beat them handily, shouting “You (expletive) need me!” This might seem like a bad attitude or a locker room problem to some, but not to Philly. Butler has proved he just cares about winning more than anything, and has sacrificed touches for the betterment and flow of the offense.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have made a name for themselves as being a fierce, hungry young duo with loads of potential and talent. They have a reputation for being scrappy, unafraid to get in players’ faces and in Jo’s case, to troll them on Instagram after the game. Ben puts his head down, and was unbothered by the Rookie of the Year drama that ensued with Donovan Mitchell and Adidas last year, seemingly using it as extra motivation to improve his game.
They want one thing and one thing only, to win the NBA Finals. Enter Jimmy Butler, potentially the final piece of the puzzle, aiming to complete The Process.
Additionally, Joel Embiid is simply having an MVP-caliber season. He is reaching Shaq-like statistics, night in and night out. He has the most 30-point games out of anyone in the NBA, and he is terrorizing anyone that attempts to defend him.
He is eating big men alive in the paint, and draining three-pointers that no man that big should have any business attempting. He already won the hearts of everyone in the city of Philly, now he is doing so on a national level. He is a stalwart defensively, bested by maybe only Gobert at his position.
In other words, he is doing everything he can to win the league’s most prestigious award, and will most likely do so if his pace of 28/14/4 keeps up and the Sixers earn a top-four seed in the East.