Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons has seen his production increase since Jimmy Butler’s arrival.
After acquiring all-star wing Jimmy Butler on Nov. 10, questions were understandably risen about whether he and Ben Simmons could fit together as the Philadelphia 76ers‘ two lead ball handlers on the perimeter.
On paper, it seems logical that the perfect secondary ball handler next to Simmons would be an elite three-point threat (essentially, what was hoped from Markelle Fultz coming out of college). Butler has proven to be a capable three-point shooter throughout his NBA career; per Basketball Reference, he has sported a 35.8 percent average from beyond the arc since emerging as the Bulls’ first option in 2014-15, when he won the NBA’s most improved award. But he is far from a sniper from the outside.
Jimmy’s bread and butter throughout most of his career has been his ability to break down the defense. He excels at creating space for his near-automatic mid-range shot, finishing through contact at the rim, and drawing fouls (in 2016-17, he shot just under nine free throws per game, per Basketball Reference). So while the talent between the two is undeniable, their fit, on paper, was questionable following the blockbuster deal. Many felt that a dip in production was likely for Simmons, and some feared that his offensive development could be stunted.
It’s turned out that Butler has elevated him to another level. Following the first two games of the Butler era, where it was clear that the adjustments made were jarring for the entire roster, Ben Simmons has kicked it in to overdrive. Since the Sixers’ Nov. 17 win in Charlotte, the second-year guard is averaging 17.9 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.3 assists, and is shooting 62.0 percent from the field in 14 games, per Basketball Reference.
This is a remarkable jump from Simmons’ first 16 games of the season, where he averaged 14.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 7.6 assists on 52.9 percent shooting from the field. His aggression in the half court set has been noticeably improved; he is settling less for 10-foot fading hook shots and has been determined to take it all the way to the cup, where he is nearly unstoppable.
Additionally, he has improved his off-ball play, despite his lack of a jump shot. Specifically, he’s shown a tendency to find a good post position right under the basket, catch the pass and immediately go up with it with either hand. Defensively, Butler and Simmons have meshed wonderfully together. Both players have the size, strength and defensive I.Q. to lock up the wing.
There were valid concerns regarding the Butler-Simmons pairing. The two have proven in a short time that even when the fit doesn’t seem to work on paper, pure talent can find a way to work things out on the court. The craziest part? This roster is still working out some wrinkles.
As Butler continues to learn the pace and flow of the offense and takes over the ball a bit more over Simmons, we should continue to see his off-ball ability develop. It’s clear that this team still has a lot of untapped potential, and Ben Simmons’ game will only continue to improve as the 76ers approach it.
Stats updated as of Sun., Dec. 16.