ESPN’s top-100 NBA players rankings have been published and analyzed, but the reactions from players are still coming in. One of the latest to weigh in was Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler.
Ranked 17th by ESPN, Butler came in behind several stars he outlasted in last year’s postseason. When asked if there’s 16 players better than him, Butler joked and said, “Probably so. Probably about 25 of them.”
Choosing to disregard the popular yearly rankings, Butler knows his game speaks for itself. After a disastrous 2021 postseason, Miami’s star forward answered all the critics in 2022, coming within one shot of the NBA Finals. Already a confident and gritty player, what would an additionally motivated and locked in Jimmy Butler mean for Miami’s title hopes?
Playoff Jimmy is a problem
An NBA player’s ability to raise their game in the playoffs is often what separates the good from the great. For Jimmy Butler, this is who he’s been throughout his career. His playoff greatness helped lead Miami to the 2020 NBA Finals, and after struggling in 2021, Playoff Jimmy was back and better in 2022.
Averaging 27.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 4.6 APG in the 2022 playoffs, Butler was a tier above the competition. He and his team came within one rimmed-out three-pointer from their second Finals appearance in three years, which is no small feat in an Eastern Conference that features Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum, Kevin Durant, and other top-tier stars.
Despite this recent success, Miami is not commonly picked to come out of the East. Teams like Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and Boston often receive the majority of this buzz, when it’s been Miami’s consistency on display since Butler arrived. With additional motivation and focus, could he lead the Heat back to the Finals this year?
Are the Heat good enough?
Without any major additions this summer, while others in the East got substantially better, Miami may currently look to be falling behind. While that may be true on paper, the team will have a chance to win any game or series that a locked in Jimmy butler shows up to.
Aside from 2021, Butler has raised his game in the playoffs substantially throughout his career. If he continues that trend, and players like Tyler Herro take leaps forward, Miami could be the Eastern Conference’s sleeper team. If that proves to be the case, fans could look back at Jimmy’s unbothered reaction to his ESPN ranking and laugh.
While he may not be Giannis or Durant, Jimmy Butler embodies grit and toughness, which constantly prevails in a postseason setting. Miami’s chances this season will be largely dependent on what their role players can provide, especially Bam Adebayo who underwhelmed in last year’s postseason, but the team knows what they’re getting from their best player. That level of assurance allows for confidence that few teams possess.