The Philadelphia 76ers gave Jimmy Butler some minutes at point guard during their most recent victory against the Los Angeles Lakers and he did well.
It would be a wise decision for the Sixers to give him more run at the position in the future, especially when starting point forward Ben Simmons is off the court. Butler would likely be far better off running the offense than TJ McConnell. He would not be replacing Simmons, but rather complementing him.
Butler is known as someone who wants the ball in his hands and as much control over his team as possible. He made headlines back in August 2015 when he told Sam Smith about how he visualizes himself as a player and his answer made headlines (via NBA.com):
“First off, I think I am a point guard. So I’ve done a heck of a lot of ball screen work, ball handling, getting into the paint and still handling, floaters, all that stuff point guards do. If I get a chance, high pick and roll more. I want some triple-doubles. I’ve got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys where they can make shots. I told Fred [Hoiberg]. You ask what position I play, I say point guard.”
Take a look at his Pure Point Rating (PPR) over the last few seasons and his individual assessment is far less surprising. While this statistic is usually used to analyze point guards, it also helps measure how other players do when tasked with a facilitator role. Even though it is an imperfect measurement, it helps contextualize his production while running point.
Ian Levy helped describe why it is an effective way of judging how someone runs an offense as a ball distributor (via Hickory High):
“Pure Point Rating creates a single numeric representation of a player’s ability to handle the ball and create positive shot opportunities for their teammates. It accounts for the relationship between assists and turnovers as well as league and team pace.”
We compared Butler’s rating to players his size and age who were not starting point guards for their team but had experience as ball-handlers: LeBron James, Scottie Pippen and Nic Batum. The data is currently available on RealGM.
Butler had very similar scores in this statistic and even compared favorably to point forwards like Andre Iguodala, Larry Johnson, Lamar Odom and Blake Griffin at this point in their careers.
So what does this mean for his usage moving forward? More likely than not, he’ll be used more as the primary ball-handler on pick-and-roll sets.
When the four-time NBA All-Star aired his grievances to head coach Brett Brown during a recent film session, Philadelphia’s hesitancy to run the PnR was reportedly one of Butler’s main concerns. When he was playing point guard against the Lakers, however, it became a staple of their offense.
Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski reported when the story about Butler’s frustration broke earlier this month (via ESPN):
“Butler has expressed a desire to teammates to play in more traditional pick-and-roll and isolation sets, rather than trying to find his place in the Sixers’ free-flowing offense.”
Given the success that Butler has had on this play type in the past, this is not something that Coach Brown should shy away from going forward.
According to Synergy Sports, Butler has ranked above the 50th percentile (better than average) when finishing possessions as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll sets in four of the past five seasons.
Among the 120 NBA players who finished at least 200 possessions in this play type during the 2014-15 campaign (when Butler was with the Chicago Bulls), only eight players were more effective.
Generally speaking, he has been one of the better distributors at his position during his career. According to NBA.com, his adjusted assist-to-pass percentage is currently the same as Stephen Curry and better than point guards Mike Conley and Kemba Walker.
Butler has ranked in the 90th percentile or better in overall assist percentage among all wings during each of the past three seasons, per Cleaning the Glass. Expect this trend to continue if Philly gives him the opportunities.