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Breaking down the Jimmy Butler to the Sixers trade

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What happens in the fantasy world with the Jimmy Butler trade?

Getty Images/Peter Rogers Illustrations

Let’s look at the Jimmy Butler trade from a fantasy perspective. Butler is an elite two-way player in real basketball, AND he’s an elite fantasy player. Will his value increase, decrease, or stay the same now that he’s in Philly? And, what of Robert Covington and Dario Saric in Minnesota?

Let’s just consider the basics, as we can’t really predict how everyone’s going to get along with everyone else.

Is there a huge difference in pace between the two teams?

That is, does Minnesota average way more possessions per game than Philadelphia or vice versa? Nope: Philly’s 6th in pace overall, and Minnie’s 9th. So, the team volume of opportunities for shots is basically the same. Minnesota is taking about 5 more field goal attempts per game, but we’re only 10ish games into the season, and that might change (last season, both teams basically had the same FGA per game). Plus, both pace and FGA are way up this year across the league: last season’s high of 88.8 FGA (by the Bulls) is currently being bested by 16 teams. And, last season’s highest paced team, New Orleans at 101.6, would currently be slower than 14 other teams. As a scientist would put it, shit’s getting real. But, that change in tempo may not last the entire season, so let’s not put too much predictive power into it.

Do both teams have Unicorns?

Yep! Joel Embiid and the Big KAT sure do qualify as Bigs who can shoot/dribble/pass. Embiid’s a much better defender, but Towns has been stifled by Jimmy Butler’s presence (Big KAT is over 27 points per game when Jimmy doesn’t play), so who knows what he’ll look like now that the Butler has butled off.

Do both teams have problems that Jimmy Buckets can’t possibly solve?

Yep! The 76ers have a point forward who can’t shoot (Ben Simmons), and a young point guard who can’t shoot (Markelle Fultz). Meanwhile, the Timberwolves have an entire team that isn’t playing defense (Towns especially); aside from that, though, they’re pretty good, astonishingly. Andrew Wiggins has been shooting better since the second half of last year; Derek Rose is, maybe, all the way healthy and playing like it; Ancient Taj continues to siphon energy from Dormammu’s Dark Dimension, allowing him to try to plug the holes his young center can’t on defense; and, Thibs continues to Thib (not even the Butler can clean up Thibodeau’s coaching mess: Minnesota has the WORST defensive rating in the NBA right now; that’s coaching).

So, both teams have good foundations, both teams have problems extraneous to Mr. Patience-Is-A-Virtue Butler, and both teams play fast and shoot a lot. Strangely similar circumstances, no?

So, let’s look at the players involved in the trade, instead.

Jimmy Butler

This season, “Bob” Covington (9 FGA) and Saric (10.2 FGA) have combined for 19.2 shot attempts per game for the Philadelphia 76ers. Jimmy Buckets has been averaging 15.7 field goal attempts per game for the Minnesota TimberBulls. Butler’s obviously going to be a starter for the 76ers, so his shot attempts will maintain, if not increase in volume, and he’ll probably start lofting more threes because Covington and Saric were the 2nd and 3rd most prolific long range shooters on Philly. Covington attempted 5.9 per game, and Saric attempted 5.4, so let’s be conservative and say that they averaged 10 3PA per game combined. Jimmy Butler’s currently averaging 4.5 3PA per game, so he might start taking a BUNCH more threes.

That’s also because of Philly’s roster. Ben Simmons can’t shoot, and Joel Embiid is the Center (though he averages 4+ 3PA), and Markelle Fultz has had his difficulties shooting, as we all know. Jimmy and JJ Redick will be vital in stretching the floor and providing space for Simmons and Embiid to operate, because Fultz just ain’t there, yet. Can Butler and Redick split 10 more threes between them? I predict no: I think we’ll see more Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, and Mike Muscala, and I think those guys will be tasked with trying to shoot from deep, as well. Simmons and Fultz are the worst backcourt in terms of shooting (I’m using backcourt generously), so the other players must needs be archers ‘pon the horizon, clearing the field for their infantry.

Regardless, for this to work in Philly, I think Jimmy must shoot more threes (even though he’s much more than just a perimeter scorer), and I think other Sixers will see their assists go up, because now you have a volume shooter where Robert Covington, who doesn’t even shoot 10 times a game, used to be. One thing’s for sure, Embiid won’t have to do it all by himself at the end of games, anymore. Butler will be a force in the final minutes of a game, and will/should help Philly win more games on the road.

Philly’s “best” five might be Simmons, Fultz, Redick, Butler, and Embiid, if only because of the defense, with Redick being the escape valve when the offense stalls from lack of shooting. Butler absolutely makes Philadelphia better. Sans any change, I think this team can challenge for an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jimmy Buckets against Kawhi, Jayson Tatum, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the current top 4 in the East, I think. Good job, 76ers.

Karl-Anthony Towns

Simply put, if the Big KAT doesn’t inherit some of the departed Butler’s shot attempts (15.7 FGA per game), then Thibodeau should be fired immediately. The Minnesota Timberwolves NEED Towns to work out and become an All World Offensive Unicorn (hopefully, with some better defense, too, but he’s only 22). Minnie already signed the Big KAT to a BIG extension, so this team is really the TimberKATs now. If they allow Towns to fizzle out, mainly due to the front office’s roster construction and the coaching staff’s game plans, then shame on them, and they get what they deserve.

Towns should probably be shooting a lot more, honestly, he’s THAT good. But, realistically, let’s be conservative and say that the Big KAT’s shot attempts go up by 4 total (so, he shoots one more time per quarter): he’d then average the same amount of shot attempts as Joel Embiid. Elegant symmetry! Perhaps Minnesota would have a better record if the Big KAT had been treated as an offensive player on par with the Process…

Robert Covington

Luckily for our Big KAT love, Bob Covington is not a player who needs to shoot a lot. He’ll most likely take the Small Forward spot, with Andrew Wiggins sliding to the 2. Saric and Ancient Taj Gibson will probably split minutes at the 4. Covington’s elite defense already makes him an elite, and unheralded, fantasy player, but he’ll now be one of the best outside shooters on Minnesota, and they, as a team, aren’t doing half bad from three! Wiggins and DRose have been better, and now the TimberKATs just added two more outside threats (Saric’s outside shot has been bad so far this season, but 39% from three last season). It sorrrrta looks like everyone can score on Minnesota? Is that possible? The defense shouldn’t fall off from Butler to Covington too much; and, honestly, now that the team has “solved” its chemistry problem, who knows? Maybe the overall team defense will improve, and the offense will constantly be on “No-Butler-Tonight Big KAT” (he’s been sensational this season in games when Butler sits).

All in all, Covington has a chance to up his fantasy profile, but there’s a good chance he won’t, as the other TimberKATs take Butler’s available shots. He’ll still remain an elite fantasy player, though, even though not much will change. Butler’s fantasy value will increase, I think, due to an increase in threes (and, actually, y’know, playing in games).

Dario Saric

The Minnesota lineup of Jeff Teague, Rose, Wiggins, Covington, and Towns is verrrry interesting to me. But, I imagine Ancient Taj will continue to start, and hopefully Saric will get a lot of play on the second unit. I think that, out of everyone involved, Saric will probably be the player who loses stats, at least in fantasy. But, who knows? Maybe Thibs will prefer Saric to start, which would be kind of awesome to watch: I think Dario and Karl-Anthony will play well together.

Good trade?

Yea, in that both teams should improve. The only real downside to this, I think, is that Butler’s behavior has now been shown to work: you can sabotage your own team to force a trade. Do we really think that we’ll never see this again? If so, I’d like to introduce you to Edward III, whose use of longbow archers at the Battle of Crecy in the 14th century heralded a transition away from infantry and towards archers and artillery. As Edward’s son, the Black Prince, might have opined after the English archers obliterated the French and Genoese army: Everything’s changed.