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Jimmy Butler’s value to the Sixers is clear after just four games | Film review

We knew he was talented, but his skill-set fits in perfectly with what the Sixers desperately needed.

Jimmy Butler puts up a shot past the Suns' Josh Jackson during the Sixers win on Monday.
Jimmy Butler puts up a shot past the Suns' Josh Jackson during the Sixers win on Monday.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The clearest piece of evidence of Jimmy Butler's value came on Saturday night, when his defensive stop and game-winning shot vaulted the 76ers over the Charlotte Hornets, 122-119 in overtime.

The entire sequence only took 20 seconds of game time, but in that short span many of Butler's strongest skills are perfectly encapsulated.

First there was the block and save.

Butler is an excellent isolation, on-ball defender and his persistence paid off when he was tracking Kemba Walker with the game tied 119-119 in OT. Walker had already gone off for 60 points and was ready to win the game and increase his insane stat line.

Sidestepping from the three-point line all the way down to the lower block, Butler never allowed Walker any space. Then he reached up with just enough length to deflect the ball. It was enough of a block to keep the ball away from the Hornets, but also in reach for a potential save.

Butler was already looking for the save as soon as the ball touched his hand. He made a no-look pass over the back of his head with the knowledge that his teammates would be ready. Defense, awareness, readiness, poise, athleticism.

After a timeout, the Sixers put the ball in Butler's hands and let him go to work.

The play was designed to give Butler room and let him do what he does best — create space with ball-handling and hit a shot. The entire sequence not only proved how much the team trusts Butler, but also showed fans why Butler's skills check so many of the boxes the Sixers needed to fill.

Many, but not all.

One of the ways Butler impacts the Sixers is exactly how they hoped Markelle Fultz would: While he remains a threat from anywhere on the floor, Butler is strong in creating off the dribble, penetrating the paint and finishing through contact.

When spelled out, it doesn't seem like such a tall order from a basketball player. But, in just four games with the Sixers, the amount that Butler has scored on strong and controlled drives makes it clear the Sixers were lacking before he came along.

In Butler's debut at the Wells Fargo Center against the Jazz, he shot 80 percent from the field on 12-of-15 shots and was 2 of 3 from three-point land. His shots included many like the one above: assertive drives with no expectation of missing despite contact from the defense.

There are a lot of reasons that approach is valuable.

First, there is the obvious space that Butler provides. The Sixers needed another player who was a shooting threat so defenses wouldn't have such an easy time double-teaming Joel Embiid. And, of course, the and-1 opportunities like the play above are always a bonus.

But Butler's ability to create space also gives other players more options and opportunity for scoring and passing. Everything is a little more open.

Additionally, when it was just Ben Simmons or Fultz driving alongside Robert Covington, there was never the same kind of confidence in the result. Simmons still has trouble with his finishing touch, and unless he's got a clear path to the basket he's not as aggressive as you would hope.

Fultz, though better lately, also has finishing problems, and sometimes he's hesitant even when close to the basket — resulting in a pass that deprives him of a good opportunity. Covington's ability to finish at the rim was improving, but he wasn't the creator Butler is.

The bottom line is, the Sixers now have a player who checks all the boxes: Butler defends at a high level, is huge in pressure situations, can create off the dribble or play off the ball, will play through contact and, crucially, he can hit shots from anywhere on the floor.