Friday Five: Dante Exum's aim, Jimmy & Ben, NBA sample size and Bolden's chance
Welcome to another edition of the Friday Five. Here are five observations from the week that was in the NBA.
1. RIP to the 76ers death lineup
Philadelphia’s trade for Jimmy Butler raises the ceiling of their roster. It provides Brett Brown with three All-Star talents and history suggests that alone is enough to ascend into the championship conversation.
Assuming Butler recommits to the franchise - as we touched on in the aftermath of the trade, that is almost a forgone conclusion given the assets surrendered to acquire the former Timberwolf – Philadelphia will have the perfect running mate for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as they work into the prime of their careers. That’s not to say the move comes without risk, as Philadelphia no longer has access to one of the deadliest five man units in basketball.
The Simmons, Embiid, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington and Dario Saric lineup posted a net rating of plus 21 during the 17/18 NBA season. That was the highest mark for all line-ups who played a minimum of 300 minutes. While early results this season weren’t as favourable, these five had a symbiotic relationship that translated into success at both ends of the floor. Philadelphia killed off this unit for good when they traded for Butler.
Introducing Butler is clearly a play on talent, but it will force Simmons to adapt. Saric and Covington were perfect complements to the Australian, as they are low usage players who can space the floor with their shooting. Butler is capable of servicing this role, albeit with an additional focus on creating his own offence .
Butler will get his touches and this will mean more time away from the basketball for Simmons. The challenge will come when opponents invariably start helping off Simmons when Butler has the ball. The NBA will dare Simmons to make them pay as a cutter, something he can undeniably do, but his deficiencies as an outside shooter will be tested even more now.
"It's not going to affect my game," Simmons told ESPN in the aftermath of Butler’s acquisition. "I know how to play, wherever you want me on the floor. But at the same time, I know what I'm good at, I know what I can do on the floor. Him coming in helps us, adds another scorer out there, another vet who can play the game the right way. He's going to fit in with us.".
Simmons is correct in saying Butler helps his franchise, but introducing another dominant ball handler will definitely force a level of adaption for all involved.
2. When is a sample a “sample”
Analytics rule the NBA world. Such is their power that even through this early part of the season, everyone is trying to identify trends from the numbers that will define the year ahead.
Within every NBA franchise, there is a general tendency not to overreact to the analytics, good or bad, until an appropriate sample size been recorded. But what constitutes an appropriate sample? Five games? Ten games? Twenty games? Opinions on this are split.
“I would say a third of the season,” Dwayne Casey, head coach of the Detroit Pistons, said of when he starts playing attention to the numbers.
“Maybe a quarter of the season. Somewhere in there. It takes 15-20 games in terms of really putting numbers to who you are.”
Brett Brown, on the other hand, takes a more hands on approach to interpreting the analytical performance of his team. When asked to explain the frequency at which he reviews the analytical performance of starting Simmons and Markelle Fultz together – now a mute point given the Butler acquisition, but an interesting case study nonetheless – and whether to pull the plug on the now defunct experience, Brown explained that he reviewed the analytics after every game.
“I’m going to have a judgment and a gut feel on how this goes,” Brown said of his former starting line-up. “The only thing I can confidently say is that it will come with a tremendous amount of thought and it will not be reactional.
“I’m not a prisoner to any time line. It’s a gut feel. It’s a read. It’s feeling your players in the program.”
Opinions on this topic will always rest with the personal biases of those making decisions. Only one thing is guaranteed, and that is the prominence of will only increase.
3. Quin Snyder’s message to Dante Exum
The past week has seen the best and worst of Dante Exum. Against Boston on Friday night, Exum was benched after just two minutes and 47 seconds of first quarter action. The Australian struggled in his brief first quarter stint and that was enough for Quin Snyder to jettison him for the remainder of the game.
In the aftermath, Snyder and Exum held a private discussion concerning Exum’s role on the team. While Snyder didn’t publicly comment on the nature of these discussions, he offered a great explanation of Exum’s development prior to Monday’s game in Memphis. Here are Snyder’s full comments on Exum, as told the media in Memphis.
The expectation for Dante is that he continues to get better as a player. He’s only 22.
Anytime you miss a year with a knee injury, then the next year most people don’t recover from that for a year. That is something we talked about that year.
Then you miss another year with a shoulder injury. Suddenly his experience on the court has been a lot less than other four-year guys. That’s important for him to keep in mind. I don’t want him to loose his resolve or confidence, and I don’t think that is happening.
At the same time, he knows the things he can really do to help our team win. He can guard and defend. We’ve talked about him really having a presence on the defensive end. Offensively, just relax. Don’t relax to the point where you are casual and making mistakes because of that. But don’t put pressure on yourself. Everybody is excited that Dante is healthy. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have growing to do as a player. Frankly, that is a good thing. When you have a young guy who has the ability to get better that is exciting.
Really the message is that it takes time. The only way you get better is by having a tough night. Reacting to it and analysing it. Continuing to compete and that is really all that I want to see from him is just to compete.
Things for Dante will work themselves out. They may not work themselves out in the next two weeks. That’s where you can run into problems. When your timeline is not fair. That’s my feeling with him being out and coming back. There just needs to be a competitiveness and a patience.
We have depth. He just needs to be himself. He’s a member of our team and he needs to do what we ask of every member of our team. That starts with defending, playing instinctively and just getting better.
In true Exum fashion, he responded with one of his best games of the season in Memphis. With Mike Conley dominating the game offensively, Exum was inserted with the aim of slowing the Grizzles’ leading man. Exum responded, as he clamped down Conley with one of his trademark bursts of defensive pressure and intensity.
Exum has repeatedly show what he is capable of; finding consistency is the next step in his development, and the key to receiving regular rotation minutes.
4. What next for Jonah Bolden?
The past week has been kind to Jonah Bolden. On Friday night, the rookie got the first extended minutes of his NBA career, playing 11 minutes against Charlotte, and looked impressive in doing so. Especially on the defensive end, as Bolden played all of his minutes alongside Embiid, in what proved to be a very promising glimpse into what the duo could develop into.
“I think he can play,” Brown said of Bolden post-game. “I was excited to throw him in there and had confidence in that environment.”
Bolden showed that he is deserving of more minutes, and that was before the Sixers pulled the trigger on the Butler trade. The price of acquiring Butler was Covington and Saric, two combo forwards who provided defence and shot making for the Sixers. There is now a clear hole in Brown’s rotation and Bolden has the skills needed to service it.
The Australian played a career high 15 minutes against Memphis on Saturday, and while he didn’t see the court in Miami on Monday, there is demand for everything Bolden offers.
Two weeks ago, Bolden’s only path to minutes was via the G League. Thanks to an impressive early showing, and the fortune of the Butler trade, that has changed. The Sixers will need Bolden this season, in ways they didn’t when the season began.
5. Aron Baynes, please get a haircut
Even by Aron Baynes' whacky standards, the hair styling he is currently rocking is way too much. Please, for all of our benefit, it's time for a haircut, Aron.
That’s another week of basketball in the books, and another Friday Five complete. Did we miss anything? Let Ben know on Twitter if there is anything you would like to see next week.