Philadelphia 76ers: What’s up with Jimmy Butler?

Jimmy Butler | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jimmy Butler | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia 76ers need Jimmy Butler to re-find his groove, especially from three-point range.

After a few solid outings, the Philadelphia 76ers have hit a bump in the non-Joel Embiid road. Consecutive losses to the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets — the latter being a blowout — have left the Sixers one game behind the third-seeded Indiana Pacers.

Aside from the weekly Brett Brown hate, much has been said about Jimmy Butler in recent games. He just seems out of it, struggling to find the right balance between shooting and playmaking in the Sixers’ star-studded rotation.

He’s also struggling to hit shots. Over the past 13 games, Butler is hitting just 17.4 percent of his 1.8 three-point attempts per game. That puts him at 4-for-23 in that span, a jarring combination of limited volume and inefficiency.

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In 10 games with Minnesota this season, Butler averaged 4.5 three-point attempts per game at a 37.8 percent clip. Those numbers have dropped to 2.8 and 33.8 since joining the Sixers, but even that far exceeds his recent production.

The Sixers are a team reliant on spacing, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons spearheading most offensive possessions. If Butler continues to passively struggle from deep, teams will begin to sag off. That could have disastrous implications, especially in the playoffs.

Butler has consistently proven his aptness as a three-point shooter, even it’s not a long-held strength. All one needs to do is harken back to his game-winners in Charlotte and Brooklyn — he’s a hard-shot maker with clean mechanics and enough range to spread the floor.

Now, after a successful early stretch in Philadelphia, Butler consistently finds himself passing up open threes (and open shots in general). That, combined with a drop in efficiency, is going to naturally clip his production. It has transitioned from a reasonable adjustment period to a legitimate concern.

Over the aforementioned 13-game stretch, Butler is averaging just 17.7 points per game. He’s contributing as a facilitator — an undeniable positive — but his drop in scoring, along with willingness to score, should strike concern in the Sixers’ fan base and front office.

At his peak, Butler remains the second-best player on the roster (though the consensus says otherwise). He can score at all three levels, provide halfcourt playmaking, and defend at an elite level. There’s no reason to believe his skill set has tangibly diminished.

Even so, if he’s not comfortable taking three-point shots, it’s going to eventually impact the offense. If the issue continues in the postseason, bringing Butler back on a long-term max contract will be met with natural pushback.

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He’s already older than the other core stars, Tobias Harris included. He has still put together impressive late-game stretches — see: Orlando last week — but the overall production has underwhelmed.

The Sixers need Jimmy to find his groove again. He needs to trade contested mid-range shots for open three-point shots, getting more aggressive in the right spots while also continuing his growth as a facilitator.

When adding Butler to the mix, it was a widespread belief that Butler would undergo the biggest adjustment. That’s only become more true with Harris joining the mix. Butler, on some nights, is the Sixers’ fifth-most important option on offense.

On star power alone, the Sixers still have legitimate title aspirations in the Eastern Conference. Butler coming into his own, taking more threes, and finding his niche within the offense will be imperative once the playoffs hit.

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With a potential Embiid return on the horizon, our next look at Butler will be Sunday against Indiana — a game in which the Sixers could take over the third seed and the tiebreaker.