It seems like decades ago when Jimmy Butler was leaving franchises in ruin. He forced his way out of Chicago. He crushed the collective psyche of the young Minnesota Timberwolves. Butler seemed to find a better fit in Philadelphia, taking the 76ers to the brink of the Eastern Conference Finals last year before spurning them in the off-season.
When he joined the Miami Heat this summer, many people thought they lacked the talent to make any kind of playoff run. Many people are about to be wrong.
Jimmy Butler is thriving in South Beach. He’s finally found a place where his legendary work ethic is being valued and reciprocated. Coming off of a triple-double in a huge win over the Raptors last night, Butler is proving that the Heat are a team that nobody wants to see in the playoffs.
Before the start of the season, the Heat were projected to be just slightly above average. ESPN and the Bleacher Report projected them to finish with a 43-39 record. Instead, they’ve blitzed out to a 15-5 record, which puts them on track for 60-plus wins. Led by Jimmy Butler, they’re doing it with toughness, grit, and defense.
They currently rank 8th in opponents field goal percentage and 9th in points allowed. They’re not too shabby on offense either. The Heat are tied for 4th in the league in field goal percentage at 47.6. But it’s not just how they’re winning, it’s who they’re beating.
The Heat are the only team to beat the Milwaukee Bucks on their home court this year. And they did it without Butler. They embarrassed the Houston Rockets by 29 points. Now they just beat a healthy, red-hot Toronto team on their home floor. When the game went to overtime, Butler scored eight straight points in the first minute. Head coach Erik Spoelstra told ESPN,
When it’s closing time, he just makes whatever play is needed.
Butler ended the game with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists. He’s been stellar all season. Butler ranks 9th in win shares and 9th in box plus/minus, and he’s doing it unselfishly. Butler doesn’t even land in the top 20 in usage rate.
After the infamous Minnesota practice, Butler was getting dangerously close to becoming a “problem” player. Commentators were calling him a bad teammate . Some even claimed he’d become an “egomaniac” when he started hanging out with Marky Mark Wahlberg in Chicago. Even after Chicago and Minnesota, reports started to surface that Butler was unhappy in Philadelphia.
It seems like Jimmy Butler just really wanted to choose his own team. He’d been drafted by the Bulls, traded to the Wolves, then traded to the 76ers. Miami is the first time he’s chosen his own team, and as the undisputed leader of said team, you can’t argue with the results.
And now the rest of the Heat seem to be fully on board with Jimmy. Teammate Justise Winslow heaped praise on Butler after the victory in Toronto.
He was doing even more stuff that you won’t see in the box score: encouraging guys, talking, being in gaps defensively. He was fantastic for us.
Rookie Tyler Herro told the Miami Herald that Butler’s character is just as good as his game.
He’s not a bad guy like everyone thinks he is. He’s a really good teammate. For him to take me under his wing early on just means a lot to me. He’s a really good guy.
Even his former Minnesota teammates are starting to recuperate and thrive. Maybe he just needed a change of scenery, or maybe he just needed to stop hanging out with Mark Wahlberg. Either way, Butler is finally right where he needs to be.