Butler has long been considered one of the top talents in the league, but his attitude has been a major concern, especially in light of how his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves ended last season.
Sports Illustrated’s top 20 players of 2020
— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) September 12, 2019
In Sports Illustrated’s list, it properly valued Butler for his contributions on the court while also making mention of his behavioral issues as negative points for his ranking.
“Part of relying on Jimmy Butler is accepting that he’s a man of certain contradictions,” wrote Rob Mahoney. “He clearly cares about winning, so much so that his game reflects it even at a granular level.”
Regardless of his outbursts in Minnesota, the Philadelphia 76ers understood Butler’s value when they traded for him last season. He promptly showed how valuable he was to the Sixers when he elevated their level of play and made timely baskets in crunch time.
“The Sixers needed Butler—perhaps more than they knew at the time they traded for him,” Mahoney explained. “Whenever the offense chafed against the holes in Ben Simmons’ game, Philly called on Butler to initiate the offense. He has that in him: enough point guard-y skills to help run the show, all while scoring in bursts and keeping his turnover numbers exceptionally low.”
It was Butler who carried the Sixers during last season’s playoffs when Simmons’ limitations surfaced during their second-round series against the Toronto Raptors. In Game 7, Butler put the team on his back and took control of the offense.
This season, however, Butler will be the Heat’s lead star. He is expected to take on the leadership role for a team that is hoping to make the playoffs once again.
Can he do it?
“It’s still fair to wonder if Butler is quite good enough to carry a high-level team as its best player, though simply having him around opens up a wide variety of adjustments,” added Mahoney. “If an opposing player is heating up, you can hand the assignment off to Butler, who does incredible work pressuring the ball while maintaining sound position. When the game gets tight in crunch time, you can rely on Butler’s well-rounded game to turn up a decent look. When a player like Butler does so many things so well, you become reliant on his versatility. Then you just hope you can keep him satisfied.”
No matter how concerning his attitude was in his previous destinations, Butler deserves to be considered as one of the top players in the game. He is already one of the best two-way players, someone that a coach can rely on on both ends of the court.
It can be argued, in fact, that Butler may be a better player than Damian Lillard, who is ranked 10th on the Sports Illustrated list. It just so happens that Lillard has been the Portland Trail Blazers’ leader for a few years now while this is Butler’s first time playing for the Heat as its top dog.
Butler averaged 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game for the Timberwolves and Sixers last season.