Well, we have ourselves a rematch: Jimmy Butler vs Jayson Tatum, Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics (maybe the bubble wasn’t a fluke after all?). We already know who got the last laugh when these two squared off in the Eastern Conference Finals a couple of years ago, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s due to happen again, it’s still a strong precedent.
The Boston Celtics are the oddsmakers’ favorites to go the distance and win the NBA championship this season, and for very good reason. They’re the deepest team, they’ll go against the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they’re fresh off a trip to the NBA Finals.
But the Miami Heat have proven that playoff seeding doesn’t matter when you have an elite coach and a hardnosed star who elevates his game to a whole new level in the postseason. So, ultimately, this could go down to a simple equation: Tatum or Butler, who’s going to lead his team?
That’s why today, we’re going to put together a bit of a breakdown to determine who would you rather have on your team right now?
Jimmy Butler vs Jayson Tatum
For starters, let’s say that they both had one of the greatest playoff performances of all-time. First, it was Butler vs the Milwaukee Bucks, and then it was Tatum with his record-setting performance in Game 7 to close out the Philadelphia 76ers.
They’re both the best player on their respective teams, and have made a strong case for being the best players in the playoffs as well. But again, who would you pick if you were to build a team from scratch? Who’s the guy you want with the game on the line? Let’s break it down.
Scoring – Tatum
Well, this one was pretty much a no-brainer. Tatum has the whole offensive package. He can score in isolation, pull-up off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, and be a consistent and efficient shooter from all three levels. He can take you to the rim and finish with both hands, he’s athletic and knows how to create separation, and he’s long enough to pull up over most defenders on Earth.
We’ve seen Jimmy Butler go on offensive tears every now and then. He’s got that bulldog mentality and will always take his game up a notch when his team needs him, but he’s not as versatile a scorer as Tatum is. He’s never been a consistent three-point shooter and sometimes will even refuse to take those shots despite being wide open.
Tatum has the potential to one day join the exclusive 50/40/90 club. He continues to add layers and moves to his offensive repertoire. You can tell he has studied Kobe Bryant‘s footwork from a young age, and he just loves to hit those turnaround fadeaway shots despite being heavily contested. He’s no Stephen Curry, but it feels like there’s no shot he can’t make.
Potential – Tatum
Likewise, Tatum has the potential to be one of the best small forwards in NBA history. He has already written his name in Boston Celtics’ history books, and the scariest part — for the rest of the league at least — is that he’s just getting started. We think of him as a veteran because he entered the league at such a young age, but he’s just scratching the surface.
There weren’t a lot of flaws in Tatum’s game when he first entered the league, but he’s made sure to work on every single one of them. He’s still not quite there as a ball-handler or primary creator, but he’s done a better job of limiting turnovers or forcing things when forced to be a playmaker, and he continues to make great strides on the defensive end of the floor.
Defense – Butler
Not only is Jimmy Butler the better defender between the two, but he’s also one of the best defenders in the NBA, period. Butler is a dog; he will embrace the challenge of locking up the rivals’ best scorer, whereas Tatum is rarely given that task.
Butler is one of the few players who can hold his own guarding one through five. Obviously, he can be overmatched and oversized against big men, but he’s still an elite defender in the post. He’ll also hound smaller players in the backcourt and run between screens.
To put in context how great of a defender Butler is: He’s piled up more career steals (1,244) than personal fouls (1,076).
Playmaking – Butler
As we already mentioned, Tatum isn’t exactly an elite playmaker. He’s improved vastly in that regard, but could be prone to mistakes when forced to be his team’s primary creator. That’s not a natural fit for him, so it makes sense.
Butler, on the other hand, often takes the ball up the court for his team. He can serve as a secondary playmaker on any given night, and he’s a savvy passer who’ll give his teammates the basketball exactly in the spots they need it to thrive.
Clutch & leadership – Butler
Last but not least, we have to address the intangibles, and Butler has a huge edge in that regard. Tatum has left a lot to be desired in his brief career in the league when the game has been on the line, especially in the playoffs, when has often been outplayed by Jaylen Brown.
On the flip side, Butler has been a great leader on and off the court for the Miami Heat. Not only has he led by example with his relentless work ethic, but he’s also been quick to get in his teammates’ faces to call them out and bring the best out of them. He’s never hesitated to take a big shot, and he’s one of the guys who often rises up to the occasion.
So, in conclusion, we would rather have Jimmy Butler right now. But if it were for the long run, we’d obviously take Tatum in a heartbeat.