The Miami Heat shocked the world after they went to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. They even pushed the Lakers to six games, but they ultimately did not have enough.
At 20 games into the season fans were looking at a Heat team that had the fourth-worst record in the league.
They were looking at a team with an alarmingly inconsistent line-up.
A team that shot horrendously, turned the ball over frequently and at one point scored only 35 points in an entire half against a defensively third-rate team, the Washington Wizards.
Do not forget that at one point people were calling the Heat’s bubble finals run a fluke with every passing game.
But 20 games later they were fourth in their conference. The team that was so heavily judged upon in their first 20 games have led the league in defensive efficiency in their last 20. A team without an All-Star or even a player averaging over 22 points a game is now locked in as a serious contender to make it out of the east.
I’m not going to bore you with an over-explanation about why the Heat have turned things around, because you know why the Heat have turned things around. Two words: Jimmy Butler.
When Butler finally outlasted the COVID-19 protocols along with many other teammates while also allowing the team some time to fit back in their roles and find their mojo, the team as a whole flipped a switch. With Butler in the driver’s seat Miami had impressive wins against teams like the Lakers and Jazz, solidifying the fact that bubble Butler was not a fluke.
A team led by Jimmy Butler was and is capable of reaching the NBA finals.
What’s odd about Butler is that he’s not your stereotypical superstar. He does not possess transcendent physical gifts like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Zion Williamson. He is by no means a specialist to easily build a system around like Stephen Curry or Rudy Gobert. He was not projected to be great from the beginning like LeBron James or Kevin Durant. With one of these boxes ticked off, everything else should naturally fall into place. These have been the stereotypical ways teams build around players for decades.
The other rarer method is by finding gems that radiate elite leadership qualities. These are the players who command the room in any place they go. Just like how non-beautiful people have to worry about being funny, these guys need to maximise all the strengths they have, including the rare ‘I might not be the best, but I am the best’ attribute. This is usually seen in undersized point guards like Isiah Thomas or Kyle Lowry.
These are the two categorical traits of identifying a superstar, a player who joins a team and instantly exceeds expectations tenfold. What makes Butler special is that he is the rare hybrid of both.
The deeper we head into the playoffs, the less likely he will be the most talented player on the floor, but he is 200 centimetres, plays both sides at an elite level and is versatile in his game. He also might not have the smarts of a player like Chris Paul or the passing of Rajon Rondo, but he holds the attention of his team and is as valuable to his team as much as anyone else in the league.
After playing in three other franchises, Butler not only has a permanent home in Miami but also represents their entire identity. He’s a foster home kid who ground his way to the top while being underrated at every step of his career. Does that not resonate with players like Duncan Robinson, who went to a Division 2 college? Or players who have bounced from team to team, like Avery Bradley or Goran Dragic?
It seems that most players emulate his hard word, defensive-first attitude. Is this not the best thing a player can provide for his team? That his work ethic and approach trickles down to the entire organisation?
Or maybe I’m wrong and it’s just a coincidence that Miami is 4-10 without Butler.