The Philadelphia 76ers acquired disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star, Jimmy Butler, now creating a new “Big Three” with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid for Philadelphia. Does this pose a threat to the Golden State Warriors’ throne?
It was first reported by Shams Charania and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic, that the Jimmy Butler drama was coming to an end — for now, as he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round draft pick. The trade now put the disgruntled Butler out of Minnesota and with a potential new trio of rising stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The Sixers acquired a third, legitimate two-way star in Butler, but maybe, more importantly for Philadelphia, it kept them in the arms race the Warriors meticulously created with the signing of Kevin Durant two summers ago.
Now, this begs the question: Does the Philadelphia signing of Butler pose a threat to the Warriors’ quest for a third consecutive NBA championship?
The Sixers acquiring Butler puts them in possible title contention because there are three other Eastern Conference elites in the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, who are vying for the East’s right to presumably play the Warriors in an NBA Finals matchup in June.
It is early, but the 76ers currently sit fifth in the East at 8-6, behind the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics. It is not vitally important for Philadelphia to be in the top four right now, but come April, teams will be jockeying for position in the top four to get home court advantage.
With last season’s 52-win season for the Sixers, the expectations grew exponentially in the city of Brotherly Love. An 8-6 start this season made Philadelphia wanting more and they got more by acquiring Butler. But would it be enough to challenge the Warriors?
Let’s look at the matchups.
Philadelphia has a two-way menace in Butler and two ascending stars in Simmons and Embiid. Meanwhile, the Warriors have an Armageddon combination of talent that includes two former MVPs in Stephen Curry and Durant, a defensive stalwart in Draymond Green and a two-way player in sniper Klay Thompson. This isn’t even mentioning the All-NBA center who is still rehabbing his Achilles injury in DeMarcus Cousins, who is salivating to return.
Simmons is a monster at 6-foot-10 with the vision of a reincarnated Magic Johnson. In transition, he is a force because of his big frame, but as often with young players, his jump shot needs improvement to keep the defense honest. He is averaging 15.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game on 52.7 percent shooting from the field.
Compare that to Curry, which should not be fair because he’s a two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion, but let’s do it anyway. On the season, Curry averages 29.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game on 51.5 percent shooting from the field. The numbers are impressive for both players, but Curry gets the nod here because how much he elevates his team to a higher level than Simmons does with Philadelphia.
Butler, who can play either the shooting guard position or small forward spot, would most likely be tasked with the challenge of containing Durant. Butler is a bulldog and has competitive juices flowing as soon as the ball tips off. His work ethic, combined with his size at 6-foot-6 make him a tough cover to defend. On the season with Minnesota, Butler averaged 21.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game. The steals per game statistic shoots off the page because he has worked himself to being one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. His strength, anticipation in passing lanes and toughness makes it difficult for opposing offensive players to get into a rhythm.
Compare that to Durant, who is one of the best scorers the NBA has seen. His size, length, touch and skill make him one of the most unstoppable offensive players in the game. Since joining the Warriors, Durant has improved on the defensive end, properly rotating to help teammates and blocks shots. On the season, Durant is averaging 26.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 0.7 blocks per game, on 55.7 percent shooting from the field. The numbers are solid for both players, but the nod goes to Durant simply because he’s one of the top three players in basketball.
Embiid is a towering 7-foot monster, who has improved every year in the three seasons he’s been in the NBA. His post moves have become second nature to him and he has developed a three-point shot, even though he is hitting at just a 27.1 percent clip to begin the year. It is not a great percentage, but he can still stretch the floor all the way to the three-point line. The big man from Cameroon is averaging 27.7 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game, with a 48.1 shooting percentage from the floor. This will be the Warriors’ biggest test in the meetings against the Sixers this season and potential date in the NBA Finals.
Luckily for the Warriors, they have a former Defensive Player of the Year in Green and a 7-footer of their own on the mend in Cousins. Green is averaging 7.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 7.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game. However, Green’s impact for the Golden State Warriors goes past the numbers, as he does all of the little things such as getting deflections and taking charges to win. Embiid gets the nod slightly over Green because of his dominance when he is healthy and on the floor for Philadelphia.
The Sixers will not be a team to take lightly once Butler is aboard and playing with his new teammates, but unfortunately for them, they do not pose as much of a threat to the Golden State Warriors as the Raptors, Bucks and Celtics do. By April, teams in the East will be jockeying for position to try to win the East crown and in the process halt a dynasty residing in the Bay Area.