Philadelphia 76ers: How to replace Jimmy Butler on offense

Brett Brown, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Brett Brown, Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons | Philadelphia 76ers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

How the Philadelphia 76ers can make up for Jimmy Butler’s lost production.

After a particularly eventful NBA Free Agency period, Brett Brown will head into the 2019-20 season with yet another new starting lineup.  In what has become something of a tradition, Coach Brown will need to find a way to put the Philadelphia 76ers‘ new pieces in the best position to succeed.

One of the most pressing concerns with the revamped roster is on the offensive side, where the team will be without their number one pick-and-roll option, and noted Bucket Getter, Jimmy Butler.  Butler served as a safety valve last season — creating baskets late in the shot clock out of thin air. He was their best offensive player in the playoffs and even served as the teams point guard in crunch time situations against the Toronto’s Raptors.

It will not be easy to replace a player with the pick-and-roll and isolation abilities of Butler, but the team has a few options it could look to for reliable offense next season.

Tobias Harris stepping up

An obvious candidate for offensive fulcrum is Tobias Harris, who signed a five-year, $180 million dollar contract to stay in Philadelphia. Last season, with a short time to get acclimated and three other All-Stars on the court, Tobias took a backseat and spent most of his time providing catch-and-shoot 3s, and attacking mismatches in the post.

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After coming to Philadelphia, his Usage rate dropped from 23 percent to 21 percent.  While this doesn’t seem monumental, his usage rate fell further to around 18 percent in the playoffs, when Tobias spent more time on the court with the usual starters.

Tobias excelled as a pick-and-roll ball handler in Los Angeles. Last season with the Clippers, the team scored 0.99 points per possession with Tobias in that role, running 5.1 of those possessions per game.  This would rank 10th in the NBA (for comparison, Jimmy Butler ranked fourth in this category).

After joining Philadelphia, those numbers fell to 0.92 points per possession on 3.4 possessions per game. Tobias will need to improve as a passer, but his buttery pull-up jumper forces defenders to go over screens — something not easy to do when the screener is 7-foot-2 Cameroonian Goliath — making him a weapon.  The coaching staff will likely give him plenty of opportunities to handle this role. His efficiency returning to LA levels would be a welcome sight for the Sixers offense

Josh Richardson, more than 3-and-D

Newly acquired Sixer Josh Richardson has  been touted as a solid young player who can defend 1-3 on one end and hit open threes at a strong clip at the other.  While this 3-and-D archetype is very valuable, Richardson has shown flashes of playmaking ability that would come in handy as well.

Richardson was saddled with a dearth of talent in Miami, especially early in the season.  The attention given to Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris should open the court up a little more for Richardson, allowing him open looks on the perimeter and giving him opportunities to attack closeouts off the dribble. The latter being somethig he has shown a knack for.

Richardson has also shown the ability to weave his way through a defense and knock down contested floaters in the paint, something that Jimmy Butler excelled at.  While he’s not the pull-up shooter that Jimmy is, he has shown some passing ability out of the pick-and-roll, and said floater will be a decent weapon to unleash in these sets.

Last season, Miami scored 0.81 points per possession with him as the pick-and-roll ball handler — about middle of the pack among players with more than three of these possessions per game. Look for the Sixers to give Richardson his fair share of opportunities as the pick-and-roll ball handler. If he can improve his mid-range pull-up, Richardson could become a consistent option for the Sixers to go to on offense.

Related Story. Richardson tasked with filling Butler's void. light

Ben Simmons, taking a leap

A large majority of conversations about the Sixers offense revolve around a certain 6-foot-10 point guard’s jump shot.  While playing hot potato outside of eight feet certainly doesn’t help, there are a few other key areas that Ben can improve to help the Sixers score in the halfcourt.

With the Sixers current roster construction, Josh Richardson will be the shortest player in the starting lineup at 6-foot-6. Most teams will not have the personnel to guard the Philly starters with players of equal height. Simmons will likely be guarded by a shorter player for most of this season, and how he can take advantage of that match-up in the low post will be key for the Sixers offense.

Last season, the Sixers scored 0.80 points per possession out of the Ben Simmons post-up, which tied for last in the league with Marvin Bagley among players with at least three post-ups per game.  Simmons’ ability to improve this part of his game could be just as crucial to the Sixers performance as his jump shot.

Simmons’ elite passing makes him tough to double team, so if he is able to become a legitimate scoring threat out of the post, he could bend defenses to his will.  With a floor spacing big man like Al Horford on the roster, look for the Sixers to ask Simmons to attack either off the dribble or in the post while Embiid rests, with four shooters surrounding him.

With all that said, the Sixers bread and butter next year will remain the Joel Embiid post-up.  The team’s success starts and ends with the big man in the middle. If the Sixers defense reaches its ceiling, look for transition scoring to be a boon for the offense as well.  Ben Simmons getting into the open court will be imperative.

Much to Sixers fans dismay the last two years, transition and post scoring become much more difficult in the postseason.  Defenses playing with a heightened focus and intensity will hustle back on every missed shot, and increased scouting will make it hard on Embiid until he can improve his passing. The ability to find scoring from other facets — specifically those mentioned above — could decide the Sixers’ ability to conquer the Eastern Conference this upcoming season.

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