7 for 6: The Worst Good Team You’ll Ever See

| Reports of Jimmy Butler clashing with Brett Brown have finally arrived, while Ben Simmons continues to search for his jumper. Drama continues to define (and underscore the importance) of Philadelphia’s season |

Jimmy Butler Drama Surfaces

What felt like an inevitable occurrence finally arrived last Friday afternoon. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Jimmy Butler challenged Brett Brown about his role in the team’s offense.

“Butler has been vocal in his contesting of Brown and his system, including a recent film session in Portland that some witnesses considered “disrespectful” and beyond normal player-coach discourse…Brown has told people within the organization that he had no issues with that exchange and considered it within the confines of the relationship that he has developed with Butler, sources said.”

Yikes. It’s no secret that Butler has clashed with teams in the past. He famously orchestrated his exit from Minnesota earlier this season. But until this point Butler hadn’t expressed any sense of tension, especially as it relates to the offense. The Sixers have the third most points per game since acquiring Butler (115.9), and rank eighth in offensive rating (112.2). Scoring has not been a major issue since adding Butler. Although Butler does have concerns about how they’re scoring. He’s a player that does well in Isolation and Pick and Roll sets, both of which the Sixers don’t do very often.

Butler and Brown finally addressed it over the weekend, and both dismissed the confrontation as a normal interaction between coach and player.

“In that film session that was referenced, I didn’t feel like any of that crossed the line, and if it did, it would have been dealt with quickly,” Brown told reporters. “I’ve had many conversations…with other players over my years coaching that would warrant that type of description [disrespectful]. This wasn’t one of them for me.”

Brown seems respected and well liked as a coach, and has earned a tremendous amount of good will coaching through seasons with barren rosters. But the onus now shifts on him to acquiesce to Butler, and it appears that he is if they both considered it to be a productive conversation.

Up and Down Stretch for Bench

Generally scoring isn’t a problem for the Sixers’ starters. It’s the bench that has trouble carrying weight.

“Our bench just needs to be better,” TJ McConnell said last week. “It’s flat-out unacceptable.”

While they’ve generally struggled in that regard, there’s reason for positivity as things progress. Until they add another player via trade or on the buyout market, the best course for the Sixers is to play the young players on the end of the bench. Jonah Bolden has seen action lately after rarely getting playing time earlier this season. His best game came against Dallas on Saturday; 10 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 29 minutes.

Bolden had a lot of hype when he signed his contract this summer. Expectations were dampened when he spent a lot of time with the G-League Blue Coats, but now he’s seemingly broken into the rotation, and for good reason. He’s arguably the best athlete among their backup big men, and offense more defensive upside than Mike Muscala.

Landry Shamet also continued his fine rookie year; he exploded for a Sixers’ rookie record with eight three pointers on Tuesday versus the Wizards. Shamet has been a tremendously valuable player, especially when you consider what their bench would look like without him. But he’s still a rookie and can struggle with consistency. He followed up that record setting game with 5 points on 2-7 shooting (granted, on the second night of a back to back).

Shamet and Bolden’s development over the next few years will be be crucial in the team’s success. Regardless of how the Butler situation plays out, the Sixers’ cap space will only dwindle from here. The development of their roles players will speak volumes about the team’s potential for a title.

Ben Simmons; Jump Shooter?

The lack of a jump shot remains a glaring hole in the otherwise complete game of Ben Simmons. In almost every game, it seems like a possession slows down or falls apart because he passes up a wide open look purely because of the distance. Coach Brett Brown commented on it recently, and was pretty clear on his message.

He’s started to get encouragement from his teammates as well.

“I shot 30 percent from three, but guys still jump when I shot-fake,” Embiid said after a win over Dallas. “Just because you take them, people are compelled to guard that.”

To Simmons credit, he’s taken more as of late. He’s the most comfortable turning around and shooting from the post.

It’s far from perfect, and there will always be folks insisting that Simmons is shooting with the wrong hand. But if Simmons can at least make defenders close out to contest a possible shot, it will unlock further aspects to his own game and the team’s overall offense.

Adventures out West

In the midst of a west coast road trip, the Sixers had a few impressive wins. Embiid anchored the team once again, with games of 28 points, 19 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks versus the Clippers, and 42-18-2-2 against the Suns. His play in those two games highlighted his Eastern Conference Player of the Week Award.

The performance versus Phoenix may have been more impressive statistically, but it was the game in Los Angeles that drew the most attention. There is something about that city that brings out Embiid’s competitive nature. In a collision with Simmons as they both went for a rebound, fans were largely taken back by how Embiid reacted.

Ultimately it wasn’t a big deal. Embiid defused it after the game, saying that he was just concerned about re-injuring his repaired orbital bone from last season.

Shake Milton

JJ Redick missed Tuesday’s game against the Wizards, opening the door for Shake Milton to get some playing time at guard. His 20 minutes of playing time was mostly uneventful (4 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists), but it was impressive considering that he played 37 minutes earlier that day for the Delaware Blue Coats.

All Star Updates

The second round of voting returns for the All Star Game was released on Thursday. The early results are encouraging for the Sixers’ stars.


Source: NBA.com

Embiid is the fourth highest vote-getter in the conference. He has a very good chance to be a starter for the second consecutive season. Jimmy Butler is right behind him in frontcourt voting, ahead of three Celtics having down seasons (though Hayward is coming back from a major injury). Simmons also appears to be a safe bet, though Dwyane Wade’s farewell tour has driven him up the ballot.

Fan voting is just 50% of the equation. The fans and select media members also get a 25% share, so that could change some of the ballot. Regardless, the early results suggest that the Sixers will be well represented in Charlotte on Feb. 17th.

New Faces

The team also made a few additions to their roster and front office in the past week.  On Tuesday they announced the hiring of Annelie Schmittel as their Vice President of Player Development. In her new role she “will be responsible for creating, managing and overseeing the holistic development and implementation of programs that support the professional and personal growth of 76ers players, staff and families.”

She also gave an interview to ESPN about her perspective rising through the ranks as a woman in a predominantly male field.

As for roster moves, the Sixers also added Haywood Highsmith on a two way contract.  The swing-man has averaged 13.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 33.3 minutes per game with the Delaware Blue Coats. He scored his first career basket on Tuesday versus the Wizards.

Finally, the team waived guard Demetrious Jackson on Jan. 6th.

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