Losing to the Orlando Magic probably wasn't the way Jimmy Butler anticipated starting his Philadelphia 76ers career, but here we are. The Magic went on a 21-0 run in the fourth quarter to beat the revamped Sixers 111-106 in Butler's debut, a game that highlighted the cracks in the foundation of Philly's current roster construction.
There were a handful of reasons the game went badly for Philadelphia, some of which had nothing to do with the Sixers' structural flaws. It was a feel-out game for Butler, who was understandably hesitant to impose himself too forcefully in his new team's offense. Joel Embiid had an off-night. Orlando couldn't miss down the stretch. You could chalk up some things to unfamiliarity, like a lack of off-ball movement and some defensive miscommunication - things that should get sorted out in time. The Sixers weren’t going to look like a juggernaut from the jump, and the Magic played well, frankly.
But some of the issues that were on display don't come with easy fixes. Their most obvious quandary manifested itself in a not-so-obvious way. Their need to space the floor around their non-shooting or so-so-shooting offensive initiators meant the Sixers had to give big minutes to Mike Muscala and Landry Shamet, both of whom were picked on at the defensive end - Muscala in particular. His being overextended also spoke to the Sixers' lack of frontcourt depth; with the creaky Amir Johnson playing just six minutes, Muscala had to soak up some minutes at center. Orlando's bigs feasted on him. The Sixers shot an outstanding 14-of-29 from 3-point range, but with Robert Covington gone, all of their reliable volume 3-point shooters are exploitable at the other end.
Markelle Fultz's move to the bench was necessary, and he looked fine in this one, working his way close to the basket and even hitting a pair of short jumpers. But transitional lineups featuring him, Simmons, and Butler predictably struggled to score. One workaround to this was to basically invert the floor, with Fultz standing in the dunker spot, and waiting for a dump-down off of penetration. That got him a pair of layups in the third quarter, with one coming off an offensive rebound just before the buzzer. Unless and until he rediscovers his jumper, using him like a big man isn't the craziest notion.
But that's a far cry from sorting out the Sixers' offensive issues. Ben Simmons was near-invisible, often drifting aimlessly when the ball wasn't in his hands and running into traffic when he did. He finished with just seven shooting possessions. Butler was more active as a cutter - slipping baseline, working a couple nice give-and-gos with Embiid - but he too looked unaccustomed to spending so much time off-ball. Embiid, perhaps wanting to keep the driving lanes clear for those two and for Fultz, seemed to work from the perimeter more than usual, and posted up less. It all led to an unhealthy number of fourth-quarter possessions that ended with Embiid taking jumpers, many of them long twos.
Again, a lot of this stuff was the natural byproduct of remaking a roster on the fly, but surrendering a 21-0 run to anyone, in any circumstance, let alone against a probable lottery team, is cause for some concern. There were enough positive indicators for the Sixers to feel good about, but this game did little to dispel the sentiment that the Butler trade was not a cure-all, and that the roster still needs a tweak or two.