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Jimmy Butler: Excelling at the Small Things
Jimmy Butler: Excelling at the Small Things
Jul 18, 2024 2:14 PM

We have reached the final stage of my Heat roster evaluation series, and clearly, we must end it off with the star of the show, Jimmy Butler. A disappointing end to the season, after a poor first round performance, should not be the season takeaway, since frankly, he had a career year at age 31.

Career highs in rebounds, assists, steals, and field goal percentage doesn’t even tell the full story, due to the fact he did that in such an uneven year. Going out for a long period after some Covid effects, then trying to will the team back into Eastern Conference contention after a slow start.

He got them into a reasonable spot to try and make yet another post-season run, but it just felt like there was nothing left in the tank. The short turnaround after an all-time Finals performance contributed to that, but as Butler would probably say, none of that is an excuse.

Now the focus is to move forward into the off-season and the 2021-2022 season. Some players that he has close relationships with could be on their way in, which could truly fulfill the next run they try to make with the Miami Heat.

Anyways, these pieces are always about taking a brief look back. With Butler, we already know all of the things he’s good at, which is why we will take a slightly different approach. We’re discussing some of the small things.

Why will that be the focus? Well, Jimmy Butler is really good at the small things.

The PnR Passer

We all know how good of a passer Butler is, especially following his career year, recording 7 assists a game. But this stuff transcends the numbers, since it’s more about the degree of difficulty.

There aren’t many teams that have their two best players as non-perimeter shooters. To that point, there aren’t many teams that have their best pick and roll set including two non-shooters. The reasoning: there aren’t as many 2 on 1’s created in the Butler-Adebayo PnR, since most defenders aren’t racing to go over on the screen.

But still, it’s somehow super effective. Adebayo’s soft touch and threatening lob catching ability definitely factors in to that success, but most of the credit goes to the crafty passing of Butler.

When taking a look at the first clip above, something well known with Butler jumps off the screen immediately. He holds such gravity when moving downhill, that the defensive player of the year and a skilled perimeter defender stay locked in on Butler all the way to the rim.

The difference with guarding him in the PnR, is that he can make passes that a lot of guys just can’t. He throws the wrap around bounce pass to Adebayo for the easy flip shot, which makes this pairing effective with the correct spacing.

Now, take a look at the second clip above. The same situation, same defenders, and well, the same result. As mentioned before, the defender smartly goes under and contains perfectly to eliminate the roller. I mean, try* and eliminate the roller.

He hits a much different wrap around bounce pass down the baseline, while he knew Adeayo was drifting toward that spot. Elite shooting seems to be the consensus for an effective PnR in today’s game, but an exceptional passing ability basically levels things out, especially when a Duncan Robinson type is on the floor to eliminate any help or tagging on the roller.

A More Fitting PnR Role

As I just dove into previously, Butler as the ball handler in those pick and roll sets clearly work, but when teams like the Bucks begin to muck things up in the middle of the floor come playoff time, things can change.

It’s not just about adjusting to a defense, it’s also about tending to the star player. The reason Butler had so many reps in those spots was due to the team lacking a point guard. Yes, they had guys who can run primary actions to find spots on the floor to lift, but it wasn’t a play-making role.

Now, I consistently bring up the Goran Dragic-Butler duo over the last two years. Dragic isn’t the play-maker you want running those sets, but he’s been a capable one at times. It’s why the Butler-Dragic PnR, both normal and inverted, became such a primary action at the end of games.

Speaking of inverted PnR’s, that is where Butler needs to be most of the time. When there were three spacers on the floor, while Dragic and Butler ran their set at the top of the key, allowing Butler to catch in stride toward the basket, that’s when he’s at his best.

It allows him to play to his strengths in every facet of the game: get moving downhill, play-make via kick-outs as defenders crash, and of course, embrace contact around the rim.

Fast-Break Freight Train

I spoke a lot about fast-break opportunities in my last piece about Adebayo’s next steps, but it is really special what Butler can do in the open court. Adebayo has shown to be very good in that area, but he doesn’t seem to take advantage of it enough. Butler, on the other hand, may take advantage of it a bit too much.

For an aging player, taking contact each and every game for easy points in transition may take a toll on him. It’s a staple of his game, and it’s pretty clear Butler will never shy away from that type of physicality. But it feels like we’re rapidly approaching the point where it’s no longer Adebayo surveying for Butler on those possessions, and instead it’s the other way around.

Aside from that, I feel the one major element to this elite ability in Butler’s bag has to do with something that occurs at the end of the clip. It’s all about the stuff at the rim. Adebayo has no problem getting to that spot on the floor with his versatility and skill, but the interesting part is that’s it’s not the same type of scoring as it is in the half court.

Take a look at the clip above. When Butler gets to the rim, he does something that we see much more than just this one clip. He hangs in the air for that extra half a second. That extra time allows him to adjust and score as defenders fly right by at full speed. That’s just Butler’s thing, and I believe that’s the key for that to become Adebayo’s thing.

This is why I mentioned earlier that it’s about the small stuff with Butler. All of those things add up, and it leads to him being such an elite player without a primary ability in the game of basketball, shooting.

Put-Back Expert

As we talk about stuff in his game that isn’t discussed frequently, why not dive into his oddly effective ways of being a put-back expert? Put-backs aren’t always an important area to highlight, mostly since it comes with the territory of being a big man.

The difference is that Butler is 6 foot 7, and somehow works that in repeatedly. The reasoning for that is just his basketball IQ, which I will dive into a bit more down the line on the defensive end.

We always discuss his methodical movements, knowing when to speed up the game or slow it down, and that just refers to the word: timing. And that’s why the put-backs have become second nature for him.

Once again, go watch the clip above, but don’t watch Adebayo with the ball, just watch Butler. Most guys sprint to the glass to try and tip it in, which ends in plenty of possessions where the offensive player flies right by the rim as it results in a defensive rebound.

Butler doesn’t speed up here, though. He takes his time as the ball goes up in the air, then explodes upward as soon as it bounces off the rim. This may not seem major, but everything is measured regarding Butler’s play-style.

The Helpful Actions for Downhill Success

There’s always a section on these pieces where we must discuss the utilization of each player. It may not be a huge deal for a team’s best player, since he will obviously be in so many different spots, but there’s a clear outcome for Butler thriving offensively.

When diving into film on Adebayo and Butler, it makes you realize how alike they are within their strengths. The hot topic with Adebayo next season will be running offense for him to get moving downhill, and well, that was where Butler truly thrived this season.

In the first clip, we see the usual DHO from Adebayo, but there are a bunch of layers attached to that. Tyler Herro sets the off-ball screen for Butler to flow into the DHO, while Duncan Robinson sets the back-screen on the big guarding Adebayo. We saw this 3-man set quite a lot this season, with the main option being a Robinson three as he sprinted to the wing for a kick-out.

No kick-out was necessary here, as Buddy Hield, who was originally guarding Robinson, is put in an uncomfortable spot as he’s no longer glued to his defender. An easy lay-in for Butler is the outcome.

The second clip above is very similar, as Butler’s battling to flow downhill and Herro sets the back-screen for him to get to the rim rather easily. As I’ve discussed, a point guard will be necessary to acquire in free agency, but a guy who can play off the ball will be even better for Butler to run stuff like this.

Spoiler alert: a close friend of Butler falls under that category.

The Defensive Skill that Sums It All Up

There hasn’t been a ton of defensive talk in this article, which is Butler’s best side of the ball, but this one skill sums it all up. He essentially doesn’t have a defensive weakness, but after watching him closely this season on that end of the floor, his defensive IQ clearly lands at number one regarding his strengths.

In my opinion, the best way to discover defensive IQ is positioning and off the ball tendencies. When a defender doesn’t have to be on-ball to be effective, that’s when it becomes impressive.

The play above is a perfect example, since as I’ve mentioned repeatedly throughout the season, he has a special ability to unexpectedly double for a positive result. He notices Naz Reid receive the ball without accounting for his backside, which leaves Butler taking a costly gamble that leads to easy fast-break points.

After this game, I asked Butler about those unexpected doubles specifically, which he responded, “I think you gotta look at who has the ball, right or left handed, what their skill-set is, and I guess some good timing, some timely gambles…If I get them it’s a good thing, if I don’t I gotta here Spo telling me to stop doing it, but I think I got them tonight.”

Once again, every major part of Butler’s game has evolved so fluidly due to all of these small elements coming together. He has already shown what he is capable of on the basketball floor in a Miami Heat uniform, and now it’s time to fill out the roster to get him and this team back into contention.

It’s not hard to find likable characters to put next to Butler, since he just wants one thing: guys who care as much as he does. And once they find that after a resting period this off-season, it’s pretty clear they will be back.

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