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Philadelphia 76ers surging early in Jimmy Butler era

The Philadelphia 76ers are feeling the early benefits of having Jimmy Butler.

Before adding Jimmy Butler, the Philadelphia 76ers were 9-6. Good enough to compete in the East, but a clear step below Toronto, Milwaukee and Boston (who’s bound to figure things out). Things have been much better since the trade.

Butler hasn’t fully acclimated to the offense yet, but he’s already responsible for two game-winning triples. His ability to create off the dribble is something the Sixers desperately lacked last season.

The Sixers now have three bona fide stars, with two (Joel Embiid and Butler) ranking somewhere inside the league’s top 15 players. All three can defend as well, giving the Sixers an elite core on both ends. That’s exceedingly important in the postseason.

As Liberty Ballers pointed out, the Sixers are 7-2 since acquiring Butler, advancing to 16-8 on the season and tying Milwaukee for second in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors still feel a tier ahead of everyone at this point, but Brett Brown’s squad is gaining ground.

In addition to the surging record, the Sixers’ net rating has been +5.2 since Butler’s arrival. That’s not elite, but it’s substantially better than the -0.1 before the trade. The Sixers have also won two straight blowouts (over New York and Washington), which is a positive.

At 11-1, the Sixers are currently the NBA’s best team at home. As Butler gets more comfortable, one would expect the Sixers’ to begin winning more games away from the Wells Fargo Center. Again, things are trending in the right direction.

Since joining the Sixers, Butler is averaging 17.8 points per game — his lowest mark since 2013-14. It’s also worth noting his minutes per game, though, as he’s tallying just 32.8 minutes per contest. The last time he averaged fewer minutes was 2012-13, his sophomore season.

The Sixers are keeping Butler fresh and bringing him along slowly, allowing Embiid and Simmons to maintain their aggressiveness. Eventually, Butler needs to get more shots. But for now, the slow integration makes sense — and, to this point, it’s working.

As currently constructed, depth is the Sixers’ primary concern. To some extent, Furkan Korkmaz, Landry Shamet, T.J. McConnell and Mike Muscala — A.K.A. the entire second unit — can be exploited in the playoffs. Elton Brand should attack the trade and buyout markets.

Next: 5 complementary pieces to target via trade

The Raptors, Celtics and Bucks are prohibitive favorites in the East. Placing the Sixers fourth in that hierarchy right now is completely fair. Once the postseason hits and Butler has more time to adjust, though, the Sixers have the potential to make serious gains.

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