Biscayne Biscayne: What Jimmy Butler Brings to the Miami Heat’s Offense
Insight // 12 months ago
By: Nekias Duncan
It took a nerve-wrecking three-week rodeo with the Minnesota Timberwolves that eventually fell apart. A few months later, a three-team trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks blew up over a bad game of Telephone. It took the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Tress Way-level punting of sleep for the Miami Heat to finally land Jimmy Butler.
But, he’s here now. Officially.
We’ve talked plenty about the actual trade, and probably ugly-cried over Josh Richardson’s wholesomeness going to Philly, but that’s not what this piece is for. We’re here to talk about the man himself. What does he do? How well does he do it? More importantly: Just how much can he help the Heat? When I first started on this piece, I quickly realized it was going to run long, buddy. There’s so much to like about Jimmy Butler, professional basketball player.
For your sake, and in the name of maximizing #clicks, I decided it made much more sense to turn a super profile into a two-part breakdown. In this piece, we’ll look at what Butler brings to the Heat offensively.
What makes Butler one of the best players in the league, and so intriguing to the Heat, is his ability to get a shot off whenever he wants. He combines a slick handle, underrated footwork, and get-outta-my-face ruggedness to generate looks for himself.
Butler does most of his work in the pick-and-roll. He’s ranked in the 75th percentile or better in each of the past four seasons, per Synergy. He does a nice job of using his handle to get his defender leaning, then takes advantage of the space created to either pull-up on a dime or get to the rack.
He isn’t a Splash Brother by any stretch, but Jimmy’s jimmy (grow up) is good enough to beat drop or ICE coverage. Here’s a quick example from the 17-18 season:
The Spurs are in ICE coverage in that clip — watch how Kyle Anderson positions himself to force Butler away from the screen. Towns does a good job of connecting with Anderson on the screen, giving Butler even more room to attack downhill.
With the space afforded to him, Butler pretty much waltzes into a jumper. It’s the same ordeal against drop coverage. Here, Butler runs Josh Okogie into the Joel Embiid screen. Towns drops back way too far, allowing Butler the space needed to drill the jumper.
Of course, Butler in space can go the other way. He’s a guy that you can’t allow to get a full head of steam going downhill.
It’s not hard to imagine the kind of chemistry Butler can have with a guy like Bam Adebayo. Those screens could pry Butler loose, and Butler has proven that he can take advantage of any space given to him.
Don’t get it twisted: Butler doesn’t need a screen to get free. He doesn’t mind playing bully-ball against smaller defenders (more on that shortly), lulling defenders to sleep before pulling up, or switching gears on drives to create space for his patented turnaround jumper:
These shots aren’t, um, analytically friendly. However, they’re the type of shots that Miami needs during their third quarter lulls or late fourth-quarter possessions. In Butler, they have a guy they can rely on and feel good about.
Getting a smaller guard switched onto Jimmy Butler is like tossing steak to a lion. You know how it’s going to end — it’s just a matter of when. Denver Nuggets guard Malik Beasley is a fine defender. There isn’t much he can do with this:
Jrue Holiday, one of the NBA’s best defenders period, has absolutely no chance here:
Butler ranked in the 58th, 91st, and 56th percentile on post-ups from the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season. He generated a combined 0.818 points per possessions for the Wolves and Sixers last season, well below his norm.
In general, Butler has no issue getting to his spots. He has even less of an issue rising up for shots over the outstretched arms of helpless defenders. With the way Miami loves running inverted pick-and-rolls — think of the Goran Dragic-James Johnson pairing – there’s potential for switch-forcing action to really stress opposing defenses out.
Wing creators are all the rage right now, and Butler certainly qualifies. His 4.8 assist average over the last three seasons ranks 14th among players 6-foot-6 or taller. Considering the roster and role changes he’s gone through over that time period, that serves as a small window into how effective he is as a creator.
This probably goes without saying, but Butler’s size allows him to see windows that aren’t present to smaller players. He can make the passes you need in pick-and-roll. He can float lobs or slip in passes to the roller if the big defender is in No Man’s Land, he can fit pocket passes into tight spaces, and he can find corner shooters if the help rotates down.
What impresses me the most about Butler is something simple: He always keeps his head up. Even if the defense doesn’t crack with his first or even second move, Butler makes sure to scan the floor for cutters. He really found a knack for finding guys slicing through the lane last season.
This is from the 2017-18 season, but it might be my favorite Butler assist:
Butler kicks off the play with a high pick-and-roll. Brandon Ingram is overzealous, and Butler takes full advantage by rejecting the screen and driving right. The drive occupies both primary defenders (Ingram and Larry Nance Jr.), but also freezes Isaiah Thomas, who is ready to rotate over to take away a potential jumper on the pop from Gorgui Dieng. Andrew Wiggins reads the rotation from Thomas and darts into the lane. Butler, who has picked up his dribble at this point, keeps his head up, spots Wiggins, and delivers a beautiful pass for the easy bucket.
Miami has been an equal opportunity offense for a few seasons now. That isn’t inherently bad — coaches generally want a “spread the wealth” system. But they want those by design, not by necessity. The latter has been the case for Miami because they simply haven’t had a guy good enough to carry their offense. With Jimmy Butler in the fold, it’s safe to say they do now.