Jimmy Butler Not Just Doing Winning Things, But MVP Things
It’s wild that one of the league’s top two-way players doesn’t receive the same praise that some of the league’s best scorers do.
Jimmy Butler is one of those hard nosed defensive guys, who can pass the ball at an extremely high level, get to the free throw line whenever he chooses, and can lead a team as well as anybody in this league. But in that description, notice how I didn’t mention scorer?
That’s always the last thing to come up when discussing Butler, and it shouldn’t just be a shoe-in adjective. He is currently averaging 25.3 points a game, which is 12th in the entire league.
Yeah, I’d say the guy can score a bit.
When bringing up the “Most Valuable Player” award, his name should always be floating around the top due to his “value” for this team every year. But after an incredible start to the season, basketball reference has him first on the MVP award tracker.
Why is that? Well, scoring Jimmy is back.
And even more importantly, he’s not going anywhere.
It is far from an overstatement to say Kyle Lowry is the reason for this flipping of the switch into scoring mode. As some Heat players voiced after last night’s win, Butler had a lot on his plate last season in terms of facilitating and hitting teammates right in their spots, but now that is Lowry’s job.
Butler’s role is to not only be that true scorer, but also collapse the defense any chance he gets. He may not have to play quarterback at the top of the offense as much anymore, but assists are still being generated through those drive and kicks that worked so well in the past.
And as the shooting numbers on this team continue to rise, those numbers will rise for Butler as well.
Now, the first interesting piece to his scoring mentality is his body of work getting to the rim. The league is cutting back on a lot of the foul calls that began to go overboard in previous years, while Butler is still continuing his success.
Guys like Trae Young and James Harden are trying to find their way in that department, since although they were smart in how to draw the whistle, they weren’t physical in doing it by any means. And that’s the difference with Butler.
Top 3 players in free throw attempts so far are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Rudy Gobert. It makes sense that bigs can continue that trajectory of getting fouls since it’s inevitable with the amount of post-play that is thrown in there. But Butler is just continuing his full-back ways, plowing right ahead to the rim.
The second element to this is that he’s taking advantage of mismatches at a pretty incredible rate. There’s no more waiting around while the shot clock trickles down. It’s now a full embodiment of the Lowry mentality.
Lowry doesn’t play to the clock, he plays to the best shot that comes available to him on the floor.
Looking at that first clip above, we see Butler get the ball with Ish Smith defending, the entire team clears out to the weak-side, and he goes to work down-low on the box. That is the formula for him.
That right there is a sign of sustainability. While the next part of his game that I will discuss may be up and down, this won’t be going anywhere.
All because he has a point guard unleashing those limitations. “Kyle’s telling me to be aggressive,” Butler said. And as much as Butler is always telling others to be aggressive, he needs that voice in his ear as well.
I can’t say that I expected Butler’s jumper to be back to this degree to kick off the year, but I guess an actual off-season gives you a chance to properly rest your body.
To that point, there’s no doubt that his legs are fully back. Looking at last season when threes never seemed to fall, every shot was short. No air time, no three-point makes.
Looking at the first two clips above, I see a guy that is getting off his feet and firing in a way that I haven’t seen from him in quite some time. Not that I expect to see a ton of stuff from him beyond the arc moving forward, but forcing defenses to even semi-respect it changes things completely.
The same goes for the mid-range jumper, which although it has seen a slight decrease from last year, those shots have been falling frequently over this 4 game slate. Also, these numbers would be even more ridiculous if he didn’t go 7 for 22 in that game against Indiana.
Another indication about him having his legs back are the amount of dunks he’s getting this season compared to last. He has 8 in six games, while he recorded 39 all of last season. Catching Lowry alley oops this regularly wasn’t an expectation of mine, but we’re seeing it right out of the gate.
And do you know another reason those dunk numbers are higher than normal?
Self generated defensive plays.
Two of those eight dunks are seen right here, both being generated through Butler swiping the ball away from Ja Morant.
As I spoke about a ton heading into the season, Jimmy Butler will shine on the defensive end more than usual, since the numbers will actually mirror his activity and production in this new role.
He’s back in that sneaky, free safety spot where he can play from behind, double when he chooses, and make the instinctive reads for himself that he has always been so good at making.
The first clip just showcases a continuation of his activity on that end whenever the handler has their back to him. When someone’s eyes are focused in another direction, that is always Butler’s cue to pounce on them or go for that sneaky steal.
The second clip is that wrap around steal that Butler always gets away with, but doesn’t get credit for since the teammate who scoops it up gets the steal. His steal numbers would be even higher if that was the case, and it almost feels like they should record it like sacks in football.
Give each guy half a steal.
This may not seem important, but it is when discussing the way the league evaluates so many players according to stats. Defensive player of the year awards continue to take block and steal stats into account a little too much, and the overall production and value on that end of the floor too little.
In many ways, I feel Butler would have a better chance at DPOY than MVP. It just feels like one of the younger guys will emerge as the season progresses since it’s only game six, and that guy would get the nod.
And frankly, Jimmy Butler probably wouldn’t care one bit.
He has one thing on his mind and that’s an NBA championship, but somehow he has himself right on track for both as we continue to move forward in the season.
Butler’s value on this Heat team is clearly greater than any other, and I’m even saying that following Miami’s only loss coming without Kyle Lowry. Bam Adebayo is a major engine to this group as well, but I can’t see the Heat escaping with many wins if Butler isn’t on the floor.
Defender Jimmy continues, passing Jimmy takes a step back, and scoring Jimmy takes two steps forward.
25 points a game on 53% shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals. And the most important number, a 5-1 record.
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