How Will Jimmy Butler be Used Following Miami’s Recent Acquisitions?
How Will Jimmy Butler be Used Following Miami’s Recent Acquisitions?
Apr 24, 2024 2:46 AM

Some things are going to change for key Heat players this season considering they added a player of Kyle Lowry’s caliber, as well as some corner spacers in PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris. Even if it doesn’t change things majorly, roles will shift slightly.

To that point, it’ll lead to many of the player’s roles being simplified. Bam Adebayo can expect the ball to find him in comfortable spots on the roll. Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson will get more open looks with the extra rim pressure on the floor. Tucker, Morris, and Dewayne Dedmon won’t have to worry about many breakdowns on the perimeter defensively.



Everything will be simple. But well, Jimmy Butler will be used all over the place. And that’s exactly how he likes it.

On the defensive end, it’s hard to keep him in one specific spot, since he does so many things really well. Hitting passing lanes is probably his best feature, can defend the post, and can’t truly be broken down one-on-one.

Offensively, the three-ball may not be a consistent shot for him, but he can be placed in every other spot on the floor to be effective as a scorer or facilitator. Much like Lowry, he’s very flexible in terms of where he can be used.

Before I continue to dive deeper and deeper into the specifics of this Heat roster, we can’t move forward too far before establishing the ways Butler will be utilized. So, let’s hop right into the film of how he will bounce off the newest acquisitions…

Defensively, Nobody Benefits More

Lowry changes many things for this team. One of the biggest shifts is that they are adding a point of attack defender who won’t die out on screens, which hugely takes some weight off Adebayo’s shoulders when defending the pick and roll.

But in my opinion, that ability impacts Butler more than anybody else on the team.

We all know what he is capable of on the defensive end, but there’s a reason that he began to hit some strides toward the end of the season on that side of the floor. Trevor Ariza being added mid-way through the year meant Butler didn’t have to defend the opposing team’s best guard in the regular season. And that was huge for his overall impact.

Lowry will be the guy in that spot moving forward, which means Butler will find himself off the ball on the weak-side more often. And I don’t think there’s many things Butler is better at than being a help-side freelancer on defense.

Looking at the play above, this is Jimmy Butler right at home. He takes chances that many players just wouldn’t, due to his confidence in his on-court reads.

Not many players are leaving Anthony Edwards wide open with zero help in sight, but Butler saw an opportunity. Naz Reid has his back to him, leading to a full out sprint from Butler to poke it free and play into transition. When he can be that sneaky helper who can disrupt ball-handlers completely, the team benefits greatly.

After this particular game, I asked Butler about making these type of reads, which he responded: “You gotta look at who has the ball, right or left handed, what their skill-set is, and I guess some good timing with some timely gambles…If I get them, it’s a good thing. If I don’t, I gotta hear Spo telling me to stop doing them.”

It’s not just about putting him in the best defensive spot physically. With Butler, it’s a mental game, and allowing him to manipulate offenses with a trusted guy on the perimeter will lead to very good things.

Why was Miami’s 2-3 zone so effective in the bubble specifically?

There are so many answers to that question: it hid negative perimeter defenders, caught opposing teams by surprise for them to adjust, etc. But one of the main things not talked about enough was pairing Butler’s perimeter dominance with another strong defender at the top of the key.

No clear-out could take him away from the play. No screen could force a switch to put them at a disadvantage. It was just pure confidence that his side-kick would be there no matter what, Adebayo was ready for the step-up or trap, and guys like Robinson and Herro had the simple task of filling the weak-side.

In some ways, that is what Butler will have in many of the Heat’s lineups next season. In the starting group, there will be 4 strong suited defenders on the floor, and a bunch ready to rotate in. Shooting may feel like the skill-set that is best around Butler, but it’s actually about the other side of the floor.

The Heat have a roster that enhances Butler, and that’s the exact reason they went in this direction.

Three-Man Game

Now to the offensive end, a lot of stuff will look like an Erik Spoelstra masterpiece. Weapons will be all over the place, meaning the motion offense will benefit greatly. But as seen in Toronto, running offensive sets as a three-man game works very well.

One variation of the three-man group will be Lowry, Robinson, and Adebayo. There will be games where they begin to spam double drag–Lowry facilitating/slashing, Robinson popping, and Adebayo rolling–which is the much needed diversity this offense has been searching for since the bubble breakout.

But more importantly, three-man actions down the stretch are going to include the team’s three best players: Butler, Lowry, and Adebayo. We could also see some double drag with these three, including Butler as the ball-handler and Lowry as the popper, since Lowry will be in a ton of off-ball spots throughout the year.

Looking at the clip above, though, this will be home-base for this trio late in games. The ball in the hands of Butler as Adebayo comes to set the screen. It appears to be a normal pick and roll, except a stagger screen is being set by Goran Dragic in this instance on the big man, forcing either a very favorable switch or an easy basket.

I’m going to discuss Lowry’s screening a bit more next, but that’s what elevates this combination. It’s going to get to a point where defenses have no other choice in these spots than to switch, giving Lowry an isolation on the pop-out with a slow big or Adebayo on the block with a guard.

It is textbook. And a couple of veterans being at the forefront of this just makes it so much easier.

Butler-Lowry Dynamic

Something I’ve highlighted many times in the past is that there’s a reason Butler-Dragic pick and rolls were so effective. Of course Dragic did more than enough to make stuff like this work, but it all revolved around Butler’s strengths.

Butler as the screener meant he could receive the ball on the short roll, which is where he’s super comfortable. He can use his plethora of pump-fakes, turn into a back-down, or plummet into the defender under the rim to draw the foul like he loves to do.

When running inverted PnR’s, the guard setting the screen or forcing the switch wasn’t what was important. It was that angle provided is all Butler needs to make something out of the possession. And when talking about guards screening, not many are better than Lowry in that department.

Looking at the plays above, something really sticks out: the spacing. In the first clip, the defender was willing to dip down for the cut-off, leaving Kendrick Nunn open on the perimeter, while in the second clip, Andre Iguodala’s corner presence was an after-thought.

Could that change for Miami next season? It’s definitely possible.

We know that nobody is ducking down to the nail when Robinson is on the perimeter, but it’s more about that 5th guy. It’ll come down to Tucker continuing to punish defenses in the corner, and Morris improving the efficiency levels little by little. If you give Butler space on these top of the key PnR’s, late-game offense will look a lot smoother.

Lob Threat through Power Forward Play-Making

Speaking of the latest wings added to the team, Tucker and Morris, there’s a formula for them to take some extra initiation as passers. Tucker will most likely takeover the DHO sets at times to allow Adebayo to set-up on the weak-side, but Morris is actually the guy that will open up Butler’s play-book.

If there’s one part of the floor that Morris is an effective play-maker from, it’s the top of the key. He was used a ton in horns actions to open up the floor with him at the top of the offense, leading to skip passes to the corner or over the top passes to bigs at the rim.

(Enters Jimmy Butler)

Butler is clearly a high level slasher and off-ball cutter, which we saw with the Robinson rub screens time and time again. Looking at the plays above, we see Kelly Olynyk surveying the floor then hitting him in stride with the lob pass for the finish.

That can be the Markieff Morris role at times, and even if it doesn’t seem major, it will be. With a secondary attacker on the roster, finding these minor areas of the offense to take advantage of will be huge for Butler, and I think we see it gradually increase throughout the season.

Switching On and Off the Ball

I’ve talked enough about the spots he will be used and bouncing off of his teammates on offense, but we must finish off with this: he will still be putting the ball in the basket in the same way, just sometimes it’ll be slightly easier.

What I mean by that is Butler is 31 years old, and though he may be moving aside for certain possessions, his interior control will still be present on a nightly basis.

The part that needs to be mentioned here is drawing the line between on-ball and off-ball effectiveness. Once again, Lowry will be running the show a lot of the time with his crafty passing ability, but sticking Butler on the wing or in the corner won’t happen for long.

Not being a deep ball threat won’t allow him to be a spectator in the offense, which leads us right into the clip above by playing off the catch. There are only a few players who can score off the catch like Butler can, just like there’s few who can shoot off the catch like Robinson can. They have the recipe right in front of their eyes.

In the clip above, there’s nothing too complicated about doing this. Finding ways to get him sprinting toward the hoop is all he needs when balancing the ability to play on and off the ball. We’ve seen his on-ball skill frequently, but this small expansion changes things.

Run a double screen for Lowry on the wing, stick Robinson in the strong-side corner, and let Butler go to work. That is the recipe I’m talking about. And there are many more layers that can be added onto that.

Giving Spoelstra extra weapons and Butler extra layers to the offense is what each of them need to win basketball games. And well, they now have both.

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