When Jimmy Butler decided to take his talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat, the team finally found an in-his-prime superstar they have not had since 2014.
While a deep playoff run could be looming thanks to the arrival of Butler, this could also be the first season a Heat player wins the MVP award since LeBron James hoisted the Maurice Podoloff Trophy back in the 2012-13 season.
MVP voting has been a point of contention for years now. There is no criteria that guides how the voting panel, consisting primarily of sportswriters and broadcasters, casts its selection.
Looking back at the list of past winners, though, three main factors seem to come into play when the panel votes for MVP: team success, individual excellence and narrative.
If things fall into place, these factors will make Butler an underrated but deserving choice for MVP.
The past three seasons, Miami posted an average of 41 wins per year. The Heat have had to rely on their defensive efficiency to scrap for those wins. Miami has not ranked lower than eighth in ADR (adjusted defensive rating), defined as “an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions adjusted for strength of opponent offense,” in three years.
Their problem stems from the lack of offensive firepower and a big-time scorer during crucial stretches of the game. The addition of the player aptly called “Jimmy Buckets” will look to help address the issues on that end of the court.
In his career season with the Chicago Bulls (2016-17), the do-it-all wing recorded per-game averages of 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists. In the 2018-19 season, after being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers where he played third fiddle to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, he still averaged 18.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Butler was also entrusted with the ball during crunch time.
Butler is clearly what the doctor ordered for Miami. He gives the offense a needed boost, while also being able to further improve the team’s defense as a four-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection.
He has the tools to lift the Heat to the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference while posting elite numbers across the board, which would make him a hot contender for the MVP race.
A Compelling Story
What could set him apart from others is the storyline that could surround his MVP candidacy.
From the 2017-18 season to the 2018-19 season, the media was tuned in to the Butler drama during his stops with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the 76ers.
After being traded from the Chicago Bulls to Minnesota in 2017, Butler never really got along with his new team. He did not see in his younger teammates the competitive drive that helped him become one of the top players in the league even after being chosen last in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft.
This caused a divide in the locker room and partly led to Butler asking for a trade during the 2018-19 offseason. And as Minnesota’s training camp approached without a deal in place, Butler infamously lashed out at his teammates, coaching staff and front office executives during a practice session.
Asked about his discontent with the Wolves in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler opened up about his passion for winning.
“I think that’s the part everybody doesn’t see,” Butler said. “I’m not going to say no names. I’m going to be honest: If your No. 1 priority isn’t winning, people can tell. That’s the battle. Now there is a problem between people. That’s where the disconnect is.”
The season opened with Butler still in a Timberwolves uniform before being traded to Philadelphia 13 games in. While he had an amicable relationship with other 76ers stars, Butler reportedly challenged coach Brett Brown about the team’s offensive system. Both player and coach downplayed the tension, although it further caused concern about how well Butler could assimilate himself into a franchise.
Now, Butler is playing for a team that is well-known for its winning culture and thrives in open, even confrontational, communication. If this partnership translates to a productive season for both Butler and the Heat, he can change his narrative – from villain to hero, from locker room cancer to franchise savior, from 30th draft pick to MVP.