What Is an NBA Star? Jimmy Butler Is Redefining the Word in Miami - SolidRumor.com

What Is an NBA Star? Jimmy Butler Is Redefining the Word in Miami

 What Is an NBA Star? Jimmy Butler Is Redefining the Word in Miami

Jimmy Butler is the primary reason why the Miami Heat are one game away from their first conference finals since LeBron James left. The 30-year-old carried them down the stretch in a tone-setting series opener against the top-seeded and favored Milwaukee Bucks, scoring 38 points before he knocked down two game-winning free throws with no time on the clock. In Game 3, he was +23 and attempted 19 free-throws, more than any player this postseason other than… Jimmy Butler, who was awarded 20 in Game 3 of Miami’s first-round win over the Indiana Pacers.

Miami’s offense croaks when he’s off the floor, understandably so when you take in his admirable postseason counting stats: 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.3 steals per game—a statistical threshold that’s only been met by five other active players, all of whom have either won a regular season or Finals MVP.

Speaking of MVPs, Butler has outplayed this year’s (probable) back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo on both ends, scoring in every conceivable way—be it on a back cut lob, a put-back of his own brick, or a good-old-fashioned pull-up three (he’s shooting 44 percent behind the line in this series after shooting 24.4 percent from distance during the regular season).

By almost any metric he’s one of best basketball players in the world. But for the past four years, in large part because he’s played for four teams and was traded three times, Butler’s standing in the NBA has been more precarious than any other perennial All-Star. Is he one of the league’s 15 best players? Top 10? Is his destiny that of an intractable run-of-the-mill star, best suited as a sidekick to someone like Karl-Anthony Towns or Joel Embiid? Or could Butler be something more, up to and including a verifiable leading man on a respectable title contender?

Over the weekend, Heat center Meyers Leonard called Butler the best player in this series. He isn’t necessarily wrong—Antetokounmpo’s narrow offensive skill-set will smear hopes of a championship run until corrected—but the statement made me think about how futile it can sometimes be to compare individual players in basketball. What we really want to know is, are they good enough to be the best player on a champion?

History tells us there are typically only seven or eight players who qualify in any given season. But instead of wondering if Butler is better than borderline cases like Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, Jayson Tatum, or Nikola Jokic, a more helpful way to answer that question is by deciphering what he can be in in Erik Spoelstra’s system, surrounded by Miami’s specific collection of interdependent teammates.

Butler is the Heat’s best player and the Heat are a legitimate title contender. As impactful as Butler has been, that’s still a stunning statement when you look at his resume and only see two All-NBA teams (none higher than third), one top-10 MVP finish, and zero seasons higher than 14th overall in scoring. You have to think back to the last two San Antonio Spurs finals teams for a comparison, and even then an aging Tim Duncan and Tony Parker still made All-NBA teams, to say nothing of young Kawhi Leonard’s steady progress towards stardom. That underlines the importance of context: few stars have found a more agreeable stylistic, cultural, and strategic fit with the team they play for.

So often, even the most scintillating NBA stars are at the mercy of their team’s front office, yearning for an extra shooter, ball-handler, source of rim protection, or whatever it might be, to help complete the roster. Butler has magically avoided this in Miami, a utopia for the player he’s always been and has long strived to be. There’s no need to tinker with a single roster spot. The stars have aligned and it’s a pleasure to behold.

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