Zwiller: Make Jimmy Butler Finals MVP
Thomas Zwiller | Monday, October 12, 2020
At the start of the series, the sports world had pretty much given up on the Miami Heat. Draft Kings had the Lakers winning the series 4-2 at around 24%, winning 4-1 at 27% and sweeping the Heat out of the finals at 19%. The Heat’s best shot of winning was going 4-3 in the series, and that was a dismal 13%. The over/under on games played was set at 6.5 and the under was considered the strong favorite at 89%.
LeBron James was expected to win Finals MVP, with his odds looking like 80%. The second closest to Lebron was Jimmy Butler at 14%. Why is that? It makes a lot of sense considering LeBron is a great player, possibly the greatest. But Jimmy Butler is a great player in his own right. Why were his odds so low? Let me explain it to you.
Traditionally, the Finals MVP is bestowed to the best player on the winning team (it is voted on by the sportswriters in the two cities in which the Finals are being played). It’s given to a player whose performance was the difference in the series, who had a legacy moment, a herculean effort, who impacted the outcome of the series all by themselves. Currently looking at the series, this makes sense for Jimmy Butler.
He has had two great games keeping the series at a close 3-2. What’s holding back his ability to claim Finals MVP is that while he may be having a series to remember, his team is most likely going to lose the Finals. Only once has the award gone to the member of the losing team. That sole occasion was the first time the award was ever given out, and it went to Jerry West in the 1969 NBA Finals. Should the Heat win, they would without question give Finals MVP to Jimmy Butler. He is the reason the Heat have stayed in this series. Should the Heat lose, well, that makes things more complicated.
In order to see if Butler should win MVP despite losing the series, he needs to be compared to the performance of the only other player to have done it first. In his MVP winning series, Jerry West had per game averages of 43.9 minutes, 37.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists. His closest teammate, Elgin Baylor, averaged 36.6 minutes per game but only 18.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists.
The closest player on the series-winning Celtics, John Havlicek, went the distance at 48 minutes per game while averaging 28.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Jerry West was simply, hands down, the best player on that court. He shot well from the field at 49.0%, he scored the most points and only the aforementioned John Havlicek outplayed him by 29 minutes in a 7-game series. The Lakers just simply lost close games, dropping games 4 and 7 by a combined 3 points.
The criteria for winning Finals MVP while losing the series: be the best player on your team, be one of the best when compared to the other team and help to keep the series competitive despite losing.
The Best on Your Team
Back in the 2020 Finals, Jimmy Butler has averaged 42.7 minutes per game, 29.0 points, 8.6 rebounds and 10.2 assists, as well as 2.6 steals and nearly a block per contest. While he is short of Jerry West by about nine points, he is a lot closer to averaging a triple-double than Jerry West was (short only about a rebound). The only other person who is somewhere in the same stratosphere as Butler is Tyler Herro, who has played an average of 35.5 minutes and in doing so has generated 16.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.4 steals. Jimmy is without question the best on his team.
One of the Best on the Court
Butlers’ numbers are impressive when compared to those of his own team, but how do they hold up when compared to the Lakers? Lebron has played on average 39.1 minutes and in doing so has scored 30.2 points, grabbed 11.4 rebounds, dished 8.2 assists plus a steal and block per game. That stat line is incredibly similar to Butler’s — just one point and two rebounds better — in about four minutes less time. Butler on the other hand is averaging two more assists and two more steals.
Since the two are fairly even, I think it is important to look at the supporting cast of both. Anthony Davis is the Laker’s second-best player, and in his 38.9 minutes per game he averages 26.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.0 blocks. The Heat have also been missing two key components of their team, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic; the former had missed two games and the latter will most likely miss the series. With AD being better than Tyler Herro as well as the fact that Lebron and co. aren’t missing anyone, I think that Butler is the best on the court.
Keeping the Series Competitive
If you need an example of keeping a series competitive look no further than Butler’s efforts. In Game 3, Butler played 45 minutes, had a 70.0% shooting percentage, scored 40 points and had an impressive triple-double. This truly was a herculean effort as well as a historical one. Butler is only the third player in Finals history to put up a 40-point triple-double, joining Lebron and, wait for it… Jerry West. Even better, in what Finals did Jerry West do so? The 1969 finals, in which he lost the series, but won MVP.
Butler is the first player to ever outscore, out rebound and out assist LeBron in a single Finals game. Butler scored or assisted on 73 points, second only to Walt Frazier in an NBA Finals game (who was responsible for 74 points). Butler is the only player to score 40+ without taking a three-point shot since Shaq in 2002.
Game 5 was an elimination game, and while Butler didn’t score 40 points, he was close with 35. The most impressive stat to me is that Butler played for 47 minutes and 12 seconds. Butler did not play for a mere 48 seconds of Game 5. Butler has kept the Heat in the series, and without those game 3 and game 5 performances, the Heat would have had no shot to beat the Lakers.
In conclusion, Butler deserves the MVP. He is easily the best player on his own team and seems to be the best player on the court. He has kept his team in the Finals with historical, herculean performances, when he simply put the team on his back and made wins happen. Though he would be only the second first person to lose the Finals while winning the MVP it seems to me that Butler should win the MVP; he has been the most valuable player.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.