Welcome back to the Friday Five. Let’s bounce around the NBA and cover five of the very best storylines in the league this week.
1. Simmons & Butler: booming defensive brothers
Pairing Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler always seemed to make more sense, from a defensive point of view. That is why early returns of the Simmons-Butler pairing presented an interesting paradox. Philadelphia’s offence boomed the instant Butler joined, while their defence cratered, especially when Simmons and Butler were forced to play without Joel Embiid.
In 13 games together, the Simmons-Butler pairing has a 105.3 defensive rating. This metric is satisfactory, albeit a relative disappointment given the individual potential of the Sixers’ wing duo. Looking at this metric in totality requires context, however, as there have been signs of growth as the pair have gained comfort on the court.
Over the past six games, the Simmons-Butler pairing are restricting opponents to a 91.6 defensive rating and Philadelphia’s team wide defence has morphed into one of the league’s best. The line of demarcation was Philadelphia’s game in Brooklyn on November 25th. The Sixers defence got scorched that night, but has rebounded to post the NBA’s third best defence since.
Greater defensive aptitude – both of the Simmons-Butler pairing and Philadelphia as a team – was illustrated over the weekend. The Sixers held Detroit to 43 second half points on 30% shooting from the field on Friday night. The performance was even more striking considering Embiid was given the night off.
Impressive cameos from Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler aided, but the Simmons-Butler pairing gave a glimpse into their combined powers.
Note how Simmons and Butler are interchangeable on the above play; both switching and roaming on the basketball to curtail the point of attack. Butler is one step ahead as a help defender, timing his shade perfectly and giving Simmons a chip out when needed (more on this in a second). The possession is neutered. Dumping the basketball inside may have worked against Muscala, but throw Embiid back into this equation and the Sixers have an elite inside-outside one-two punch.
Speaking on the Simmons-Butler pairing, Brown is giddy about the impact an experienced leader will have on his young point guard.
“They have formed a partnership,” Brown said of Simmons and Butler. “They have formed a collective, collaborative pair defensively. I made light of the head band brothers, and did my best to make it a defensive tie.
“I have gone to Jimmy and asked him to take Ben under his wing. Especially defensively. Because I think Ben can be an all league defensive player. At some point really soon, that is my goal for him. I am seeing improvement. I am seeing a willing, prideful defensive player.
“When you play someone 36 minutes, then at times they take possessions off. You especially see it on the weak side. You see it off the ball more than on the ball. Ben has improved, in that area, as much as any. I feel like the inclusion of Jimmy Butler into this program has helped Ben in seeing a different way to do things.”
2. Ryan Broekhoff letting it fly
Ryan Broekhoff received a career-high 16 minutes last week in New Orleans. Predictably, the high watermark led to career highs in every counting metric, most notably three-point attempts as the Frankston native launched four three point attempts in 78 seconds of action at one point!
Broekhoff remains outside of Rick Carlisle’s playing rotation. He is restricted to garbage time minutes, but remains ready to take advantage of any opportunities that arise.
“Stay ready, it’s a long season and who knows that can happen,” Broekhoff explained of his mindset. “If I do get the opportunity, make sure I come out, have confidence and be ready to play.”
There will be a moment this season where Dallas needs the shooting touch that Broekhoff offers. While it is difficult to draw conclusions from spot minutes at the end of blowouts, subtle hints of Broekhoff’s potential are sprinkled within every performance.
Take this play against the Pelicans. If opponents aren’t fully paying attention, then Broekhoff can leverage a simple down and explode in an instant.
Editor’s note: if you missed our exclusive sit-down with Broekhoff, here is a link to the 28-year-old talking about his path to the NBA, growing up in Europe and getting to play alongside his idol Dirk Nowitzki.
3. What next for Delly?
Matthew Dellavedova’s trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers was an asset play for the Milwaukee Bucks. We covered this in the aftermath of the trade. Dellavedova, with his $9.5 million player option for next season, was a hindrance to the Bucks’ free agent aspirations. George Hill offers Mike Budenholzer an upgrade on the court, without the future financial obligations, and that made the move an easy one for Milwaukee.
Being jettisoned to Cleveland obviously alters Dellavedova’s team aspirations: he left the second-best team in the Eastern Conference for the second-worst. The silver lining is that his personal fortunes have changed for the better. The Australian steps into the Cavaliers locker room with a clear role as Colin Sexton’s backup and mentor.
Dellavedova took a season-high seven field goal attempts in his first game for the Cavaliers, playing over fifteen minutes for only the second time this year. Given he had only been with the team for two days, the fact Dellavedova was able to step right in and service a role bodes well for his immediate playing prospects. It’s entirely plausible that his minutes rise and that Dellavedova is closing games for the Cavaliers. This is a development season in Cleveland, but in tight games, Dellavedova is a veteran head that arguably belongs in the Cavaliers best five-man units.
"I’m really excited for this next chapter in Cleveland," Dellavedova said, in a video from his YouTube channel. "I’ve got a lot of very special memories from my first time being there over the course of the three years I was there.
4. G League round-up
Let’s check in with some high-profile Australians toiling away in the NBA’s second division.
Jonah Bolden: Now healthy after suffering a cortical crack in his right fibula, Bolden is back splitting time between the Sixers and the Delaware Blue Coats. Yo-yoing between both squads is simply a means of maximising developmental time.
In the past week alone, Bolden played a game in Delaware on Monday night, got recalled and practiced with the Sixers Tuesday morning, then got assigned back to Delaware on Tuesday night and played in the Blue Coats contest against the Rio Grand Valley on Thursday.
Contrary to clickbait headlines from some outlets, this is all part of the plan for Bolden. It provides the best of worlds. Bolden is practicing like an NBA player, but with the Sixers lacking available minutes, he is using the G League as work experience.
Deng Adel: If there was an award for best Australian in the G League this season, Adel would be the recipient. He is starting on a team with the G League’s best record and looking better and better with each passing game. Over the past six games, Adel is averaging 16 points and 5.5 rebounds in 32.8 minutes per game for the Raptors 905.
Isaac Humphries: The former Sydney King is averaging 9.2 and 5.2 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game for the Erie BayHawks, Atlanta’s G League affiliation. Humphries game-to-game playing time has fluctuated over the past month, although he remains effective when given the opportunity.
Compared to when last seen in the NBL, he is in better shape and is more active on the defensive end as a result. His three-point shooting is also something to monitor. It remains a very small sample (8 of 20), but Humphries is shooting the three ball at 40% and looks very comfortable doing so.
Mitch Creek: As we covered earlier in the week, Creek has found comfort playing in Long Island alongside a familiar face in head coach Will Weaver. The Australian has stepped into a leadership position on the Long Island roster, and with the Nets currently sitting second in the Eastern Conference with a 10-4 record, Creek is gaining attention in America with his trademark style.
The G League will converge on Las Vegas next week for their annual winter showcase. The four day long event draws in NBA general managers and player personnel executives from all 30 NBA teams, and is an opportunity for every player in the league to impress prospective employers at the NBA level.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Rockets center Clint Capela and Minnesota Timberwolves wing Robert Covington have all used the event as an accelerant for their NBA careers. According to the G League, more than 50 players have received NBA contracts following prior showcases. It is an opportunity to show out.
5. The craziest Patty Mills stat you will see
The San Antonio Spurs are better with Patty Mills on the court. That is no breaking news, considering Mills is currently their most proficient point guard, but the degree to which this statement carries weight is remarkable.
The Spurs are 19.3 points per 100 possessions better with Mills on the court this season, per Cleaning The Glass. Now, on/off measures must be quarantined with context: especially considering Mills gets the fortune of avoiding starting units when coming off the bench, but the degree to which the numbers validate Mills’ impact is astonishing.
The Australian has played some great basketball this week as the Spurs climbed back to .500 on the season. San Antonio will need the very best Mills can offer as they seek a return to the postseason.
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.