Barry Jackson: Does Butler need to shoot more? ESPN analyst says he’s taking ‘passivity to an extreme’

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One of Jimmy Butler’s most admirable qualities is his eagerness to get teammates involved, even at the expense of his own offensive numbers.

But in the wake of the Miami Heat’s poor starts to several playoff games, does Butler need to start shooting more, especially early in games?

ESPN’s Mark Jackson has suggested as much, and ESPN’s Tim Legler offered cogent commentary about the issue after Boston’s Game 3 win on Saturday that left Miami with a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals, which continue on Wednesday (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

“Read the situation maybe a little bit better if you’re Jimmy Butler,” Legler said after Butler attempted 14, 11 and 13 shots in the first three games of the series. “I love how patient he is. I love the fact he’s a star player that doesn’t get upset if he hasn’t had a shot in five minutes, doesn’t hang his head.

“But look, this is game after game you’re digging double-digit deficits going into the third quarter. Game 2, seven shots going into the third quarter. (Game 3), nine shots going into the fourth and he’s not going to the line a ton. So that mentality of, ‘We’re going to go to that well that I will be there when you need me to be (is risky).’

“There’s an expression of showing up late to a party. Sometimes, everybody has left (the party) already and that’s the case with Jimmy Butler (in Game 3). You’re not always going to be in a position to take over and win the game. Not to mention you aren’t always going to find that rhythm if you haven’t had a lot of touches.”

Legler was just getting started.

“I just think he’s taking the passivity to an extreme, and he’s got opportunities at the rim where he dribble penetrated and he’s not even looking at the basket in the first half of these games,” Legler said. “I’d like to see him come out, maybe even take 16 in the first half to get the game within a reasonable distance. You don’t have to dig these holes.”

So does Butler see any merit in Legler’s point?

“It’s like I always say, as long as we win, there’s no problem with anything,” Butler responded when asked after the team’s practice Tuesday on the Disney campus. “I’ve got to make sure how ever we’re playing as a group, we got to put out (wins) at the end. No matter how many shots I take, no matter how many points I score, our job is to win. I don’t know what that will take.”

Here’s what the numbers say about Butler’s offensive aggressiveness:

— Butler’s 12.4 field-goal attempts per game in these playoffs would be his lowest in a single postseason since 2013-14, his third season in the league.

In his two most recent playoff appearances that stretched at least 10 games, Butler averaged 17.8 field-goal attempts per game for Chicago in 2014-15 and 14.6 for Philadelphia last season. He’s actually averaging more points in this postseason — 20.6 — than he did for the 76ers last postseason (19.4).

— Butler’s 12.4 field-goal attempts per game in this postseason is below his 13.1 average during the regular season and is lower than his average shot attempts in a single regular season since 2013-14, his third year in the league.

— Among everyone who has played in this postseason, Butler stands just 41st in the league in field-goal attempts per game, behind Josh Richardson, Jordan Clarkson and Luguentz Dort, and barely ahead of Brooklyn’s Garrett Temple.

— What helps is that Butler is averaging 9.5 free-throw attempts per game — easily the highest of his career for a single playoffs. Butler averaged 9.1 free-throw attempts during the regular season.

He’s tied with Anthony Davis in free-throw attempts per game this postseason, behind only Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic and James Harden.

That 9.5 average is well above his career free-throw attempt averages in the playoffs (6.0) and regular season (6.1).

While Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has never publicly implored Butler to take more shots, Bam Adebayo said something interesting about Butler last week:

“He’s cool people,” Adebayo said. “I see him as a brother now. He’s about the right things. That’s what we love about Jimmy because he didn’t come here and just demand that he be that guy … That sounds crazy because that’s a max player saying I’m going to just get in where I fit in.

“That’s why sometimes we got to tell him to turn the switch on. Sometimes I feel like he forgets that he can be the best player on the court.”

In Butler’s defense, he can cite this stat: The Heat is 12-5 this season — including 3-0 during these playoffs — when he attempts 10 or fewer field goals in a game.

And he has made an enormous impact on both ends of the floor during this 10-2 Heat playoff run, with averages of 20.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.1 steals while shooting 47% from the field and an impressive 47.8% on threes (11 for 23).

“Maybe he’ll look at (my comments) and agree or maybe he’s going to stick with what’s working for him so far,” Legler said. “They’ve only lost two games in the postseason so maybe that’s enough for Jimmy Butler.”

Overall, Butler stands 17th among all NBA players in scoring average this postseason. Among Heat players, only Goran Dragic is scoring more per game; he’s 15th at 21.3.

Butler kept coming back to the same point during his media session on Tuesday: The team needs to play better at the start of games. The Heat overcame 14- and 17-point deficits to win the first two games of the series but couldn’t climb out of a 20-point hole in Game 3.

Excluding Tyler Herro’s good work, the Heat’s bench otherwise has not played very well in this series, and Butler holds his starting group somewhat accountable for that, too.

“If we start off flat, it trickles down the line so it doesn’t get the bench in a groove they’re comfortable playing with because they see us being lazy on both ends of the floor,” Butler said. “It’s on us as a starting five to play better as a whole and start each game off the way we can and the way we’re supposed to, so they can come in and hoop.”


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