- After being a respectable 3-point shooter for most of his career, Jimmy Butler shot and made few attempts this year.
- In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers dared Butler to shoot from the outside by giving him plenty of space.
- Butler took three 3-pointers, but he spent much of the game driving in traffic or giving up the ball against a defence that hadn’t collapsed.
- Facing elimination, Butler could take note from LeBron James, who used to face the same type of defence, and fire away or work himself into more favourable shots.
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After watching Jimmy Butler drop a 40-point triple-double in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers changed their defensive scheme in Game 4.
The Lakers had the 7-foot Anthony Davis defend Butler throughout the night. Davis’ length smothered Butler, and if Butler called for a screen to hunt a mismatch, the Lakers switched only if it meant LeBron James or Markieff Morris were going to defend him â€” nobody smaller or slower.
Butler still finished with 20 points on 8-for-17 shooting, with 11 rebounds and nine assists, but it wasn’t the dominant performance he had in Game 3. Butler shot 5-for-5 from the field to begin Game 4 but shot 4-of-13 the rest of the way.
The Lakers also made another simple adjustment that cramped the Heat’s offence: they dared Butler to shoot from the outside.
Butler stopped taking â€” and making â€” 3-pointers this season
Butler has never been an elite 3-point shooter, but he’s been capable for most of his career.
From 2012-2013 to 2018-2019, Butler shot 34.2% from long range on more than 1,300 attempts. His 3-point shooting peaked in 2014-2015 at 37.8% from deep while averaging three attempts a game. It’s enough volume to declare Butler a competent shooter.
Butler’s attempts dwindled toward the end of last season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Upon joining the Heat, Butler essentially removed the shot from his arsenal. Over the 58 games of the 2019-2020 season (before the suspension for the pandemic), Butler shot just 24% on 2.1 3-point attempts a game. Furthermore, as the season went on, he took fewer and fewer attempts:
- 2.8 attempts a game in November
- 3.0 attempts a game in December
- 1.6 attempts a game in January
- 1.0 attempt a game in February
- 0.5 attempts a game in March
From January 1 to March 12, Butler went just 5-of-30 from downtown, a startlingly low number for a player who had always incorporated it into his game.
Wing players can be effective without 3-pointers, but their absence can still be harmful to a team’s offence. Butler’s reluctance to shoot 3s, even upon entering the bubble, meant sometimes turning down a good, open shot for a play that never materialised:
The Lakers invited Butler to shoot in Game 4, and he rarely did
Regardless of where Butler was on the floor or the offensive action, Lakers defenders gave Butler a healthy amount of space to shoot.
Butler did attempt three 3-pointers in Game 4, but one was an end-of-quarter heave.
Throughout the game, the ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy harped on Butler to attempt the open jumpers the Lakers granted him.
At times, Butler attempted to drive into the space, only to meet defenders in the paint.
(Yes, this drive still ended with a positive result, since Bam Adebayo got the offensive rebound, but it’s not exactly sustainable offence, as the Heat have been a poor-to-average offensive-rebounding team this season).
The Lakers went far under screens, giving Butler the kind of space that typically spells death in this era of NBA offence.
Imagine, for instance, giving Stephen Curry, James Harden, or Damian Lillard this type of space on a screen.
Butler took just one in-rhythm 3-pointer off the dribble â€” a wide-open corner shot, which he missed. The Lakers got the rebound, and James found Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in transition for a corner 3-pointer of his own, a huge momentum swing.
It’s a safe bet that the Heat would live with that type of miss late in the game.
Butler should look across the court for the remedy
What makes Butler a unique star is his desire to fit in and not dominate the ball offensively. But with the Heat down 3-1 in the series and still missing Goran Dragic, they need transcendent shooting performances as they got in Game 3 from Butler.
If Butler is looking for inspiration to take those deep shots, he can simply look to James.
In Game 7 of the 2013 Finals, the San Antonio Spurs gave James the same treatment the Lakers are now giving Butler, daring him to shoot and going under screens. James was a fine shooter then, but it wasn’t his strength, and the Spurs wanted to wall off the paint.
James began launching from deep and made the Spurs pay.
Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, the 2019-2020 Coach of the Year, joined the ESPN sportswriter Zach Lowe’s podcast “The Lowe Post” after Game 4 and offered some solutions to get Butler taking advantage of the defensive scheme.
“My first thing is, he’s got to believe he can just turn that corner and take the 3 ball,” Nurse said. “There’s some chances to shoot 33, 35% on those and then collect a few of the misses to raise that percentage up a little bit and get yourself in a high [points per possession] scenario.”
Nurse also said if the Lakers continue going under screens, Butler could beat his defender to the other side if he drives quickly enough.
And if Butler is more comfortable from the deep two or midrange spots, Nurse said the Heat could set multiple screens to get Butler closer to the basket.
This isn’t asking a non-shooter to launch deep jump shots suddenly; Butler has proved himself capable.
Nurse said, “I’d probably start with just shooting a few more 3 balls.”
- Read more:
- LeBron James called Game 4 of the Finals one of his career’s biggest and sent a pre-game text to his teammates calling it a ‘must-win’
- Jimmy Butler’s rise to NBA superstardom is among the most unlikely in the league
- Jalen Rose says a 4th championship puts LeBron James on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore, but Michael Jordan would still be the ‘GOAT’
- A ranking of LeBron James’ top teammates through the years shows he hasn’t always had All-Star help
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