While sitting down trying to figure out what to write for this article, a intriguing YouTube video popped up. The video was First Take on ESPN debating who was the most underrated player in the NBA right now. Stephen A and Jalen Rose both said Jimmy Butler, and I am inclined to agree.
When Jimmy Butler left the Chicago Bulls, the team got worse. When Jimmy Butler left the Minnesota Timberwolves, they won at a much lower rate than with Jimmy in the lineup. When Butler departed for Miami in free agency after a season with the 76ers, a team with two superstars got worse. One could argue that Butler leaving one of these teams and them getting worse could be a coincidence, but three teams three straight times? I don’t think so and let’s find out why.
First of all, Butler plays A LOT of minutes, a number that increases the more his team needs him. The fewest minutes Butler has ever played as a full time starter was 2012-13 when Jimmy was the 7th option on a 45-37 team. Since then, Butler has dominated the floor wherever he lands, and has been extremely successful doing it.
One stat I find interesting is Butler’s steals per turnover, which measures how many steals Butler gets on the defensive end for every turnover he commits on the offensive end. Butler has .78 steals per turnover, which might not seem like he’s doing that good, right? Well among qualified players who had the highest usage rate on their team, meaning they handled the ball the most, Butler is #2 in the NBA behind only Toronto’s Fred VanVleet.
Not only has Butler been a dominating defensive force the entire time he has been in the NBA, but his offensive game has been developing and with better weapons down in South Beach, good ol’ Jimmy Buckets is flourishing. Having elite shooters like Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson to kick out to, or having All-Star caliber big man Bam Adebayo definitely helps Butler to succeed.
In Miami, Butler can be the leader, the ball handler and the defensive stopper. He can take the last second shots without other big egos wishing they had the chance to take that shot, and Butler can push others to be the best that they can be because all the Heat players see Jimmy as a leader.
In a modern NBA culture that rewards “superteams” meaning top 15 players teaming up with each other, Butler is the exception to this role. It appears that Butler thrives in situations where not only is he the best player, but he is the biggest personality. I never bought into the whole narrative of Jimmy Butler being a bad teammate. The same way Michael Jordan only wanted to win, Butler is focused on excellence and excellence only. Thankfully for Jimmy and the Miami Heat, they have found a culture and a system that allows Butler to do just that, and will continue to do so for years to come I believe.