Never bet against Jimmy Butler.

Period.

This is a man that has battled through countless adversity: homeless at the age of thirteen, a significant lack of suitors coming out of high school, deemed only a two-star recruit after his freshman year at Tyler College. Nothing was expected much of Butler, however, anyone who knows of him, knows better than to bet against him.

Career year

Jimmy Butler is having the greatest individual season from a Miami Heat player since LeBron James in 2013-2014. Butler is averaging 21.7PPG, 7.5RPG and 7.8APG on a career high 47.6% shooting from the field.

He is also enjoying career highs in assists and rebounding as he continues to widen out his arsenal and prove to doubters that he is very much among the elite players in the NBA. What is remarkable about Butler’s production is his relatively low usage rate of 27.9%. Despite handling the ball more than he ever did in previous seasons, Butler’s 27.9% does not rank among the top 25 players in the league. To put this into context, sixth man of the year frontrunner Jordan Clarkson’s usage rate is 28.8%.

       

What Butler represents is a personality that has been lauded throughout the different eras of the NBA – confrontational, demanding, but above all else, having an insatiable passion for the game of basketball.

This has not always gone down well in different organisations, most notably in Minnesota. Butler verbally castrated teammates Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns for a lack of effort.

Ultimately, Butler was traded to the Sixers. However, the one full year Butler was in Minnesota, the team made the playoffs for the first time since the Kevin Garnett era. They have not done so since.

Questions were asked when Jimmy Butler signed for the Miami Heat back in 2019. After suffering a heart-breaking loss in game seven in the second round in the playoffs to the Toronto Raptors, Butler decided against running it back in Philadelphia and instead took his talents to a middling Miami Heat team that had achieved one playoff spot in the previous three seasons.

Early season woes

The Miami Heat currently have a 22-18 record, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. They have had to claw their way up from the basement of the East having suffered a slow start to the season.

Injuries, COVID-19 health and safety protocol meant they rarely played their starting five together. The 144-97 blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks back in December was a night to forget as the Heat gave up 29 made threes by the Bucks, who shot over 50% in the process. A starting five that included Meyers Leonard and Mo Harkless in the absence of Butler and Goran Dragic demonstrated a serious lack of firepower.

January saw Miami nosedive with a 5-10 record. Their form sparked conversations on whether the Heat will even get a playoff spot.

Last year’s run to the Finals was a surprise to everyone but proved detractors wrong. Never have we seen a 5th seed or lower advance to the Finals since 1999. The New York Knicks did it that year and lost in five to the Spurs as the eight seed.

Aggregators called it a fluke, the less critical said it was a situational occurrence. Don’t tell Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley, or Micky Arison that. They will testify that Heat culture is very much the backbone of the team’s success.

The turnaround

Despite players suffering with injury (Avery Bradley calf, Andre Iguodala sore hip) Miami have built an impressive winning streak that has put them right back in contention and among the big hitters in the East.

Miami have won their last five and are 9-1 in their last ten (joint best along with the Bucks). With the next three games against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Indiana Pacers twice, head coach Erik Spoelstra should be confident of extending their run.

The loss of Jae Crowder to the Phoenix Suns during the off season was perhaps more heavily felt than anticipated as the Heat currently have the 25th ranked three-point percentage in the league. Promoted in his place in the starting line-up is sophomore Tyler Herro. His heroics (pun most definitely intended) during last year’s NBA Playoffs put the league on notice. He proved to be a steal late in the lottery of the 2019 NBA Draft.

Butler took Herro under his wing during his rookie season and the two have a strong bond. Butler has made a point of appreciating how his veteran Luol Deng showed him the ropes when Butler was a rookie and understands the importance of helping the maturation process of young players. From Herro, to Duncan Robinson, to Bam Adebayo, everyone speaks glowingly of the man associated as a locker room cancer.

The camaraderie between Butler, and everyone in the Miami Heat organisation shows a togetherness. That is key in the face of adversity. It shows that whenever adversity hits, Heat culture hits harder.

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