Can Jimmy Butler overcome obstacles to become 'Playoff Jimmy?'

Can “Playoff Jimmy” emerge at a time when Bam Adebayo is struggling, Tyler Herro is injured and the absence of a fellow superstar could be catching up?

Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat
Detroit Pistons v Miami Heat / Megan Briggs/GettyImages
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After developing the “Playoff Jimmy” moniker through years of late-season heroics, Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler is mired in an untimely, uncharacteristic slump. As a result, the Heat have lost four straight and slid from sixth to eighth in the East. 

This only instills the narrative that Miami goes where “Playoff Jimmy” goes. With the playoffs rapidly approaching, can “Playoff Jimmy” emerge at a time when Bam Adebayo is struggling, Tyler Herro is injured and the absence of a fellow superstar could be catching up?

If the answer is no an early playoff exit could be on the horizon. That could happen after Butler posted a meager 15 points – just four in the fourth – in the Heat’s 100-88 loss Wednesday night to the Denver Nuggets. Butler has averaged 18 points during the four-game losing streak.

This is concerning because he hasn’t had a stretch of four games in March this poor since the 2020-21 season when he averaged 14.5 points per game from March 19-26. Less than two months later the Heat were bounced in the first round. That was their only time not advancing past the first round in the Butler era.

This recent stretch reflects poorly upon Butler, but it's a byproduct of Adebayo's recent struggles, too.

During the four-game losing streak, Adebayo hasn’t eclipsed 18 points and shot 11-for-22 (50%) from the line. In Sunday's home loss to the lottery-bound Washington Wizards, Adebayo finished 1-for-9 with four turnovers and Miami was out-scored by 18 with him on the court. If Adebayo can’t climb out from this rut, then “Playoff Jimmy” may not reveal himself. 

Reality is the Heat need “Playoff Jimmy” and a better version of Adebayo. 

Adebayo’s defense and 121.6 offensive rating in 2019-20 helped Butler lead the Heat to the NBA Finals. A similar concept applies in 2021-22, when Adebayo notched a 119.7 offensive rating to help the Heat ascend to the Eastern Conference finals. Extraordinary play from Butler alone will not be enough for the Heat to make it that far again.

This isn’t a knock on Butler. Kobe Bryant would likely have three rings – not five -- if it weren't for Pau Gasol. But if Adebayo continues his offensive struggles this will only continue to clog the paint, which prevents Butler from attacking downhill.

Tyler Herro’s foot injury only exacerbates these issues. Since Herro went down on Feb. 25 the Heat are 1-4 against playoff contenders and averaged 98 points in those four losses. The 88 points on Sunday was their lowest output since November of last season.

Without Herro, who averages 20 points per game, Butler can’t afford to average 18 points per game. During this recent seven-game stretch, the Heat are 0-5 when Butler nets less than 26 points. 

Granted, four of those losses came against teams in the top 10 in defensive rating. But that’s the caliber of competition Butler excelled against to become “Playoff Jimmy” in the first place. Therefore a solution must be found ASAP because Herro will likely miss the next four games. Heat shooting forward Kevin Love (heel) is also likely to miss four games. If Butler can’t find that fix when the Heat face five playoff contenders from March 18-26, it might be too late.

This would only illustrate why the Heat needed to pair Butler with a superstar. By completing a trade for either Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell, or Damian Lillard, Butler wouldn’t bear so much pressure.  

Each of those players could create scoring opportunities for themselves. Therefore, the 34-year-old Butler wouldn’t need to expend massive amounts of energy in games and keep himself fresh for the final stretch of the season. 

A lack of energy could be why Butler made one field goal against the Nuggets in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night. 

ESPN’s Tim Legler on the "ALL NBA" podcast was sharp with his critique, saying, “At no point last night did he try to put his foot on the gas.”

Butler has garnered several criticisms over the years. Rarely, if ever, has he been criticized for "not putting his foot on the gas." Just ask Karl-Anthony Towns. 

On the other hand, even with all these obstacles, shouldn’t Butler get the benefit of the doubt?

This is the same Butler who uncorked 56-point and 42-point performances last year to send the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks home, then continued to dominate against the Knicks and Celtics to lead the No. 8 seed Heat to the NBA Finals.

According to ESPN, Butler is one of six players in NBA history to play at least 100 playoff games and average more points, rebounds and assists and shoot better in the playoffs than in the regular season. The other five? Hakeem Olajuwon, James Worthy, Ben Wallace, Robert Horry and Bryon Russell.

"This is the Jimmy everybody always waits for at the end of the year," Adebayo told ESPN during last year’s playoff run. "Y'all see sparks of it during the regular season and he's one of those players in the playoffs, he can turn it on."

Such a stark contrast from Legler’s recent comments: “I struggle with 'Playoff Jimmy.' What about regular-season Jimmy when they need you like last night?”

So with 17 games left, and a brutal seven-game stretch coming up, Butler must morph into “Playoff Jimmy.” Even when it may be unreasonable to expect him to.

“It’s that time,” Butler captioned on a recent Instagram post.

The Heat are 4-5 since.

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