Updated NBA Championship Odds: Jimmy Butler Trade Fallout
It finally happened -- Jimmy Butler was traded. Minnesota traded Butler and Justin Patton to the Sixers for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a future second-round draft pick. Butler forms a new big three in Philadelphia with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and the Eastern Conference just got a bit more competitive, but the question for bettors is whether the Sixers (or the Timberwolves, for that matter) have betting value after the trade.
Here are the current title odds that reflect this blockbuster move, per FanDuel Sportsbook :
|Team||Title Odds||Implied Probability||numberFire Probability||Difference|
While Butler was a massive acquisition for the Sixers, Philadelphia had to give up two of their starters, rather than mortgaging their future with a pick-laden trade offer. Covington and Saric are two versatile players that allowed the Sixers flexibility with lineups and defensive matchups. While Butler has the reputation of being an elite defender, he hasn’t had the same success in Minnesota, and his defensive rating this season (115) is worse than that of Robert Covington (104) according to Basketball Reference. The Sixers have been much better on the defensive end of the floor, where they rank 9th in defensive rating, as opposed to 21st in offensive rating, and there’s no statistical evidence based on this season that Butler will improve Philadelphia defensively.
Even though Philadelphia might be less flexible on defense now, adding Butler means another great scoring option for the Sixers. Butler’s offensive rating this season of 122 would easily be the best on the Sixers this year, with the current highest being Embiid’s 114. Butler can score from anywhere, including beyond the arc where he’s shooting 37.8%. His scoring efficiency will improve the Philadelphia offense, especially since he’ll be partly replacing Dario Saric’s usage on the floor; Saric wasn’t efficient at all on the offensive end with an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of just .443 (although he had an eFG% of .541 last season, so he's bound to improve on his poor start).
Overall, while Butler is one of the NBA’s best players and improve the scoring ability of the Sixers, it seems that they will be worse defensively. This has also been reflected in the updated odds; while Philadelphia’s championship odds improve slightly to +1400, they’re still behind division rivals Boston (+500) and Toronto (+900). Our model now pegs the Sixers as a team to avoid in the futures market, with a championship probability of just 3.6%.
Minnesota still expects to win now with their current core, having turned down the Godfather offer submitted by Houston of four first round picks in favor of Saric and Covington from Philly. It’s certainly a good trade for the Wolves from a chemistry point of view, as Butler was obviously a major disruption to the team. But the Timberwolves lose one of the NBA’s most efficient forwards on a team that already ranks 27th in eFG%.
Another aspect that Minnesota will miss offensively is Butler’s ability to get to the free throw line. Butler averages 4.8 free throws made per game on 15.7 total field goal attempts per game. Neither Covington nor Saric are as aggressive driving to the basket as Butler and Minnesota’s offense will likely suffer as a result.
Defense, however, is another story. While Saric hasn’t brought much to the table for the Sixers so far, Covington has been one of the league’s best with a defensive box plus/minus of 3.1 on the year. Covington’s ability to guard the opposition’s best scorer and versatility to switch on screens will likely elevate the Timberwolves from their lowest ranked defensive rating. If Saric can get back to the level he was playing last season, where he was an average defender rather than a liability (and a solid floor spacing forward and efficient shooter, moreover), the Timberwolves can still make a little noise in the Western Conference despite losing their best player.
The problem for Minnesota is that they play in one of the toughest divisions in the NBA and would have to navigate through a gauntlet of talented teams to win the West. The Timberwolves still have the lowest win total projected by our model in the Northwest Division. Even at 100-1 odds, the Timberwolves don’t present any value to win the title.