This past weekend, Jimmy Butler was dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package that highlighted young players Robert Covington and Dario Saric. Jimmy Butler is a superstar in the NBA and one of the best finishers that the game has to offer. Butler coming to Philly surely will help fill a hole at wing and place them in a favorable salary cap situation going forward (Butler’s deal expires after this year). The race for the East and the competition for the Bucks just got a lot more interesting, so let’s take a look at how the deal specifically impacts Milwaukee.
At the moment the Bucks are a spot ahead of the 76ers in the Eastern conference standings and Jimmy Butler’s addition to the conference race will force all teams to play harder down the stretch if they want to secure a solid playoff position and home court. I do not think, however, that the 76ers, even with the addition of Butler, are on the same tier that Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto are.
Many believed that Philly was just “a piece away” from competing with the best teams in the East and West, but what was not taken into account was the fact that Philly would offload two of their other biggest pieces away in the deal. Covington and Saric have been key pieces to Philly’s Process and will be missed, especially in a long playoff series. Furthermore, the ridiculous fall of Markelle Fultz has left another hole at guard for the time being.
All of those losses together further one of Philadelphia’s biggest weaknesses and Milwaukee’s biggest strength: Three-point shooting. The Sixers are shooting just under 34% from distance so far on the season, eighth worse in the league. Butler’s emergence will free up playing time for J.J. Redick, the team’s best shooter, but Butler does not add a serious deep threat for the team that some other superstars do. Butler adds to the strengths of the team that already existed such as defense and physicality that stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have ingrained in the team’s culture. In a three-point shootout with Milwaukee, though, the 76ers did not upgrade enough to hang with the sharpshooting Bucks.
Another one of Philadelphia’s biggest weaknesses is their lack of depth. The Sixers lost key bench pieces Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Bellinelli in the offseason while not making many major splashes besides signing Wilson Chandler. That leaves their bench with Fultz, McConnell and unproven pieces such as Landry Shamet and Furkan Korkmaz that the team cannot survive a tough playoff series with. Currently, the 76ers do not have a bench player who is playing over 10 minutes a game and has a positive net rating. Giving away Saric and Covington in this deal does burns them when it comes to veteran depth for the near future.
So, the 76ers may have acquired an all-NBA talent, but I do not think that the Bucks have much to fear in Philly. The Bucks are playing at a higher level than them and are still in position to make a move later in the season. Stopping the new Philadelphia big three at full strength will be hard for any team, but Milwaukee has proven that they can force you to play into their game plan, something Brad Stevens frustrated Ben Simmons with in last year’s postseason. Look for Milwaukee to try to expose the shooting problems that Philly has and frustrate them with a fast pace, tons of passing, and loads of space to create one-on-ones for the Greek Freak to create and control the game.
It will not be until March that the two teams face off, and much is bound to change, but if the two teams were to face off now, I give the edge to the Bucks.