Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Time for Jimmy Butler to prove he wants to win

Spike Eskin
February 08, 2019 - 11:02 am

If you ask Jimmy Butler about the baggage he brought with him to Philadelphia, he’d tell you that all he wants to do is win. The conflicts with several teammates in both of his previous NBA stops were simply the result of his insatiable desire to be a champion.

After the Sixers all-in trade for Tobias Harris this week, it would be a good time for Butler to prove that his desire to win isn’t all talk.

Butler arrived with the reputation of being a lockdown defender. He has been anything but for the Sixers. His on-ball defense has been passable, if spotty, and his off-ball defense, especially over the last couple of weeks, has been terrible. Multiple instances of bad gambles on steals, and slow closeouts on three point shooters have been impossible not to notice. A last minute block on Kemba Walker is what most of us remember, but it hasn’t been most of the experience.

After the deadline, the team is obviously deficient in one specific area: a player who will effectively guard the other team’s lead ball handler.

The Sixers have been decimated by smaller, quicker guards of all skill levels this season, from Kemba Walker to D’Angelo Russell. If they’re going to make it through the Eastern Conference this season, that job must be Butler’s. If his desire to win is everything he says it is, he must excel at it.

ELTON BRAND: WE WILL KEEP SIXERS CORE TOGETHER

With the addition of Harris, the scoring load will have to be shared by the starters. The need for Butler to take on as much responsibility to score as he thinks he should have is obviously no longer the case. There is no reason that a starting lineup that includes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and JJ Redick can’t afford Butler the ability to expend more energy on the defensive end. 

Butler picking it up on the defensive end cannot wait until the playoffs.

Seeding will be important for the Sixers, and the regular season isn’t a throwaway. The difference between the three seed and the five seed could be the difference between having home court against the Nets and having to face the Celtics or Raptors without it. Butler does not have the resume of playoff success, nor is he at the age where he should be consistently saving himself for the postseason, if we’re to believe that’s what he’s doing now.

At some point during the playoffs, the Sixers will face some combination of Kyle Lowry, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, D’Angelo Russell, Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton.

If Butler wants to win as much as he suggests, he’ll worry less about yelling in film sessions about pick and rolls, and more about guarding his man, and staying awake when the player he’s defending doesn’t have the ball.

Jimmy Butler has a long way to go before I’d even consider paying him anything near what a maximum contract would cost this offseason, especially now that Harris has been added to the fold. But showing some of that defensive intensity we’ve all heard about would be a good first step.

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