Jimmy Butler hasn’t exactly put up the numbers this preseason that many expected when the Heat signed him to a four-year, $142 million maximum contract this summer.
Butler is averaging 8.5 points on 7.5 shot attempts, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in two preseason games. Tyler Herro, Dion Waiters, Bam Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr., Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, Kendrick Nunn and Meyers Leonard are each averaging more points than Butler this preseason.
But it’s all by design.
“Pass the ball, guard. I want everybody else to get used to the game, especially the young guys,” Butler said, with the Heat set to continue its preseason Thursday against the Magic in Orlando. “I think I’ve been around long enough to know what I’m going to do. When the time presents itself, I’m comfortable more than anybody. I’m just out here trying to get everybody else comfortable, man. We’re going to need everybody in this long season.”
This unselfish approach reminds coach Erik Spoelstra of a former Heat leading man.
“I think it’s really rare for a star player. In that regard, he reminds me of LeBron [James],” Spoelstra said following Wednesday’s practice. “He is so aware and mindful of his teammates and he wants his teammates to play well and be in rhythm, even at the expense of his own offense.
“He’s not looking at how many shot attempts he gets or how many points he’s scoring. He really just cares about the bottom line: Are we winning or not? Are we doing the right thing to put our team in position to win?”
Butler also used this same approach in his first preseason with the Timberwolves. After Butler was traded to Minnesota in June 2017, he averaged 13.7 points on six shot attempts in the 2017-18 preseason.
“I don’t ever worry about my offense,” Butler said. “I know I can score the ball with the best of them. We got a lot of guys that can do that in games. So when somebody is open, you give them the ball. When I’m open, I’m going to get the ball. You practice your habits like that, and that stuff just gets contagious. That’s what we talk about every day, making that extra pass, swinging it one more. Good to great. I think we do a great job of that.”
How much of a backseat is Butler taking on offense this preseason? He ranks 10th in usage rate (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while on the court) at 15.9 percent.
Butler finished the 2017-18 season with a usage rate of 24.5 percent and the 2018-19 season with a usage rate of 21.8 percent.
“He knows, whenever it becomes go time, when we need a basket or a good look or create an opportunity for a teammate, he’s driving that action,” Spoelstra said. “He’ll be able to produce. He has done that his entire career. But I think that really speaks to his levelheadedness and understanding of the big picture.”
It’s part of Butler’s plan to learn more about his new teammates. That plan began by watching film on each one before the start of training camp.
“When I was talking to coach about it, the day that I got here, I told him to send me film on everybody,” Butler said. “Even if it was K-Nunn in summer league or Tyler in college. Whatever it was. I’ve obviously played against so many of these guys. But just lock in and trying to make sure they can stick to their strengths.”
Waiters back with Heat
Heat guard Dion Waiters was back at practice Wednesday and is expected to play Thursday against the Magic. The guard was away from the team to deal with a family issue that forced him to miss practice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Waiters returned to Miami just in time for Monday’s preseason game against the Hawks, but he was held out.
“I feel good,” Waiters said following Wednesday’s practice. “It’s basketball at the end of the day. Just come back, get some workouts in and some cardio. It’s not the basketball part. It’s about making sure your body feels good. I still was like working out at home. Family came first, but I made sure I got some cardio in also.”
▪ The Heat traveled to Orlando with 17 players. The three players who remained in Miami were forwards Udonis Haslem and James Johnson and recently signed guard Skyler Flatten.
Center Kelly Olynyk, who has missed the Heat’s first three preseason games with a bone bruise on his right knee, practiced Wednesday and traveled with the team to Orlando. Olynyk is listed as probable for Thursday’s game against the Magic.