Barry Jackson

The Heat was arguably NBA’s worst in one key area last season. How Butler will help that

Numbers-flavored chatter on the Heat’s acquisition of Jimmy Butler:

Factoring in all shots from the field and free throws, no team shot more poorly in the clutch last season than the Heat. Even Dion Waiters, who was excellent in the clutch two years, was 2 for 24 - 2 for 24! - on clutch shots last season.

Butler should begin to change that, based on his career body of work.

“He’s in the top five of guys you want the ball with in their hands in the final five minutes of a game,” former NBA forward Richard Jefferson said on ESPN this week.

Some numbers to consider:

Miami shot 39 percent from the field in the clutch last season, which is defined by the NBA as the final five minutes of a game with a margin of five points or fewer. That was third-worst in the league, ahead of only Houston and Oklahoma City.

Conversely, Butler has shot 43.4 percent in the clutch over the past four years, which - if compared to all wing players last season - would have ranked 25th (minimum 25 shots), in the upper quarter of the league. Butler has shot between 45.1 and 45.5 percent in the clutch in three of the past four seasons, with his 2017-18 clutch numbers in Minnesota (38.5 percent) something of an anomaly.

Last season, his 45.5 percent clutch shooting in the regular season ranked 18th among wing players who took at least 25 clutch shots.

Coincidentally, Butler’s and Josh Richardson’s clutch numbers were almost identical last season: Butler was 25 for 55, Richardson 24 for 53. Dwyane Wade, incidentally, was 30 for 77 (39 percent).

Meanwhile…

On clutch free throws, Miami shot just 66.4 percent last season; only Minnesota was worse. Butler should help in that area, too.

He shot 87.7 percent on clutch free throws in the past four years (187 for 213), which - using last year’s statistics - would be seventh among all wing players. Last season, he was 29 for 36 on clutch free throws.

Though Butler is an OK, but not great, three-point shooter, his clutch three-point shooting (33.6 percent over the past four years; 32 for 95) has been substantially better than Miami’s league-worst 21.2 percent clutch three-point shooting last season.

Incidentally, Butler shot 3 for 6 in the clutch from the field for the 76ers in the playoffs last season and 7 for 8 on three throws.

Last season, the Heat was 21-24 in games that included clutch minutes. If Waiters regains his old clutch form - and Butler doesn’t regress - the Heat potentially should be better in the clutch, even with Wade’s retirement leaving a void.

ESPN rated Butler 46th in the league in its player efficiency ratings last season, compared to 157th for Richardson. Among Heat players, only Portland-bound Hassan Whiteside (18th) was higher than Butler.

Though Butler is an excellent defender and was fifth in the league in steals per game last season (1.9), his regular season defensive metrics took a dip in one area last season. Players shot 47 percent against him, compared with the 45.9 they shot overall.

That ranked in the bottom quarter among starting small forwards. Conversely, players shot 44.2 percent against Richardson and 45.5 against Kawhi Leonard.

But that was an outlier, because Butler allowed 44.1 and 42.4 percent shooting against the player he was defending in the previous two seasons.

And Butler’s defense was great in the playoffs for Philadelphia last season; players defended by Butler shot 34.5 percent (48 for 139), even with tough matchups against Leonard and others. That was best, defensively, among small forwards who played a minimum of 10 playoff games.

Butler’s scoring average was only two points higher than Richardson’s last season (18.7 to 16.6), but Butler shot much better from the field (46.2 to 41.2). Butler’s scoring average fell mostly because, after his trade from Minnesota to Philadelphia, he was playing around other excellent players who took a lot of shots.

The previous season, he was 15th in the league in scoring at 22.2 points per game

In a testament to Butler and the 76ers’ overall talent, Philadelphia scored 121 points per 100 possessions with Butler on the court, tied with Kevin Durant for second best among starting small forwards, behind only Danilo Gallinari.

Here’s my Tuesday piece on the Marlins adding three international prospects today and some good news on the farm.

Here’s my piece with reaction around the NHL on the Panthers’ spending spree.

Here’s part 1 of my 3-part series on UM’s recruiting class - and targets -for 2020.

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