Miami Heat

What exactly is the Heat getting in Jimmy Butler? Here’s a closer look

Riley: “Not a new culture, but to tightening the screws on a culture that sometimes erodes just a little bit.”

Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media during the season-ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday April 13, 2019 in Miami.
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Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media during the season-ending press conference at the AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday April 13, 2019 in Miami.

The Heat’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler became official Saturday with the NBA moratorium coming to an end.

The attention now shifts toward this question: What is the Heat getting in Butler?

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To start, Butler is a four-time All-Star who is preparing for his ninth NBA season. He turns 30 on Sept. 14. At 6-8 and 232 pounds, Butler is a wing player who is known for his ability to make an impact on both ends of the court.

“Jimmy’s leadership, tenacity, professionalism, defensive disposition and his ability to create his own shot will improve our roster immediately,” Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement to announce the addition of Butler. “Any time you can add a four-time All-Star to your roster, you make that move.”

THE OFFENSIVE SKILL SET

The Houston native has averaged 21.2 points on 46.1 percent shooting from the field, 35.1 percent shooting on threes and 84.9 percent shooting from the free-throw line, to go with 5.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 332 regular-season games over his past five seasons.

While averaging 18.7 points on 46.2 percent shooting in 65 games (10 with the Timberwolves and 55 with the 76ers) last season, Butler generated 52.7 percent of his shot attempts from inside the paint.

Among the 16 guards who averaged five or more shots from the restricted area per game, Butler was one of the best in the league. He ranked fourth-best in shooting percentage in that area of the court (65.7 percent) behind only Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe, Washington’s Bradley Beal and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.

Among the 27 guards who averaged three or more mid-range shots per game, Butler wasn’t as efficient. He ranked 23rd with a shooting percentage of 35.7.

And among the 111 guards who averaged three or more three-point shots per game, Butler ranked 67th with a shooting percentage of 34.7.

To put those numbers into perspective, Josh Richardson, who the Heat dealt for Butler, shot 54 percent at the rim, 39.5 percent in the mid-range and 35.7 percent on threes this past season. But only 35.9 percent of his shots came from inside the paint.

As the numbers show, Butler is known for his ability to create offense near the basket. That style of play helped him average 5.6 free-throw attempts per game this past season, which would have been a team-high for the Heat.

Butler has never finished a season averaging more than 3.6 three-point shot attempts per game.

But Butler wasn’t especially efficient on drives to the basket last season, shooting 46 percent on penetration attempts with 43.6 percent of those plays resulting in points. To provide a comparison, Beal shot 56.4 percent on drives and 63.1 percent of those plays resulted in points last season.

By play type in his 55 regular-season games with the 76ers, Butler was used in transition 16.6 percent of the time he had the ball in his hands, in isolation 10.2 percent of the time, as the pick-and-roll ball-handler 25.2 percent of the time, in post-up situations 7.2 percent of the time, in spot-up situations 10.5 percent of the time, off hand-offs 8.4 percent of the time, off cuts 7.2 percent of the time, off screens 4.4 percent of the time, off putbacks 5.4 percent of the time and miscellaneous actions 4.6 percent of the time.

Butler can be used in a variety of ways offensively. He doesn’t necessarily need the ball in his hands as much as other stars around the league to generate offense.

“I’m great at sharing the ball, moving without the ball,” Butler said to reporters last season of adjusting to his offensive role with the 76ers. “If I need the ball, I’ll go steal it, go to the other end and lay it up. Go get an offensive rebound. There’s more than one way to get the ball. I think the way these guys play, sharing the ball, setting screens, slipping, all of that good stuff, I think that’s actually easier than having to create all the time in iso situations and off the pick-and-roll.”

Butler will definitely provide a lift to a Heat offense that was below average in almost every offensive category last season — 26th in points (105.7), 22nd in shooting percentage (45), 21st in three-point shooting percentage (34.9), 30th in free-throw percentage (69.5), 23rd in turnovers (14.7) and 26th in offensive rating (106.7 points per 100 possessions).

HOW ABOUT DEFENSE?

As for the other end of the court, Butler has earned a positive defensive reputation. He’s made the NBA’s All-Defensive second team four times in his eight seasons.

Butler’s combination of athleticism, size and strength makes him a versatile defender that can switch on to multiple positions if needed.

“I think that defensively, and with the physicality that he plays with, and he replicates ... he mirrors the spirit of Philadelphia,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said of Butler last season.

“He is a fierce competitor, and there is toughness that he plays with. It’s who he is. He wears it on his face. It’s seen in his game. It’s confirmed by multiple All-Defensive teams, and it’s a perfect fit for our city and our program defensively.”

Butler’s individual defensive metrics weren’t great this past season, with players he defended combining to shoot 47 percent — 1.1 percent better than those players’ normal shooting percentage.

But Philadelphia was still a better defensive team when he was on the court. The 76ers allowed 2.1 fewer points per 100 possessions when Butler was playing compared to when he wasn’t.

Butler also averaged 2.6 deflections per game this past season, which was ranked 14th most in the league. That level of activity has made him one of the NBA’s best at disrupting passing lanes, averaging 1.9 steals over the past three seasons.

In the 76ers-Raptors second-round playoff series this year, Butler’s defense against Kawhi Leonard was solid. He was the primary defender on Leonard for 14.4 possessions per game, holding the two-time Finals MVP to 42.3 percent (11 of 26) shooting. Leonard also recorded three assists to seven turnovers when defended by Butler in the seven-game series.

JIMMY, THE COMPETITOR

Personality-wise, Butler is known as a no-nonsense competitor, for better or for worse.

After the Bulls drafted Butler out of Marquette with the 30th overall pick in the first round of the 2011 draft, he spent the first six seasons of his NBA career in Chicago.

In Butler’s final season with the Bulls before he was traded to the Timberwolves during the 2017 offseason, he criticized his teammates in Chicago for not delivering effort on a consistent bases and not taking losses as hard as they should. Dwyane Wade, Butler’s Bulls teammate at the time, was also critical of the team and its effort.

When Butler was traded to the Timberwolves, he ran into similar issues. After completing his first season with the Timberwolves, he requested a trade just weeks before the start of the 2018-19 season in part because of his belief that not all of his teammates were committed to winning.

As weeks went by without a trade following Butler’s request, he was involved in a heated practice upon his return to the Timberwolves where he challenged teammates, coaches and front-office executives during the session.

Butler eventually got his wish and was traded to the 76ers, where he teamed up with Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Simmons to lead Philadelphia to the second round of the playoffs before they were eliminated by the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors.

There were reports early in Butler’s stint with the 76ers that he challenged Brown on his role in the team’s offense. But by the end of the season, Brown and Butler seemed to figure out how to work together.

“I think he realizes how different a human being that I am,” Butler said to reporters at the end of this past season. “How I can be difficult at times, but it’s from the right place. I work so hard and study my game and everybody else’s.”

Riley has no problem with that personality type.

“I can tell you that when Dwyane was 25 years old or 26 years old, he wasn’t fun to be around. He was not fun to be around after a loss,” Riley said to the Miami Herald last season for a story unrelated to Butler. “He was a non-BS guy. He was a competitor and he was an assassin. In practice after a loss, forget it. He would come and work, and he would be pissed.

“You either have it or you don’t — Kobe [Bryant] had it, Dwyane had it. I’m talking about those cold-blooded players. They would come out the next day in practice win or lose, they’re the first one on the court and demanding their teammates go harder, go harder, go harder.”

Butler has it.

(All stats courtesy of NBA Advanced Stats)

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.
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