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Their Wikipedia pages won’t list them as All Stars in 2021, but Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are assuredly playing like All Stars.
And that stands atop any list of reasons why the Miami Heat has rolled off five consecutive victories and climbed back to within one game of .500 and just one half game out of fourth in the Eastern Conference.
Over this ongoing 9-3 stretch, the Heat (16-17) has outscored opponents by 50 points with Butler and Adebayo on the court together, with Butler averaging 21.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 9.1 assists and 1.8 steals over that 12-game stretch and Adebayo averaging 19.0 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
“Those guys are stars for a reason,” Goran Dragic said after scoring 26 points in the Heat’s 124-116 win Friday against the steamrolling Utah Jazz.
Exploring the impact Butler and Adebayo are making in various aspects of the game, with the Heat set to begin a two-game homestand against Atlanta at 8 p.m. Sunday:
What Butler and Adebayo are achieving in this area isn’t merely impressive; it’s historic.
Since the turn of the century, only two sets of frontcourt teammates have each averaged at least five assists per game during the same season.
Kevin Durant and Draymond Green did it three times as Golden State teammates, and Butler and Adebayo are well on their way to doing it for a second consecutive season.
Adebayo is averaging a career-high 5.5 assists, behind only Denver’s Nikola Jokic among centers.
Butler is averaging a career-high 7.8 assists, behind only LeBron James among small forwards. Erik Spoelstra said Butler is essentially playing more point guard than at any time in his career, and he’s finding joy in that role.
“I love that my teammates are having an opportunity to score,” Butler said. “I love when they put the ball in the basket. I’ve got the easy job; I get to pass to guys that can shoot, guys that can finish at the rim.”
Over each of the past 20 seasons, between one and eight NBA frontcourt players have averaged at least five assists per game. During 12 seasons this century, three or fewer have done it.
The luxury of having that type of playmaking from a center and small forward is “really valuable especially how our offense is constructed,” Dragic said. “You want to put the ball in Jimmy’s hands. He is going to get inside the lane and make the right read.
“We can play through Bam at the high post; he’s great at those handoffs with Duncan [Robinson] and even pick and rolls. Those pocket passes, he’s making great decisions... for corner threes.”
Among starting small forwards, Butler ranks third best in field goal percentage allowed to the player he’s defending, at 41.4. That trails only Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James.
Also, the Heat permits 106 points per 100 possessions when Butler is on the court; that defensive rating is second-best among all NBA forwards, behind James (minimum 500 minutes).
Among centers, Adebayo is ninth in that defensive rating category (109 points relinquished per 100 possessions when he’s on the court). And he’s fifth among starting centers in defensive field percentage allowed at 44.4, behind only Myles Turner, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and James Wiseman.
“It’s been a couple games I have four rebounds and 10 points and it feels like I’m the most impactful player on the court,” Adebayo said. “That’s my job, to be the most impactful player on the court. That’s what I’m paid to do.”
After averaging a career-high 6.7 rebounds last season, Butler has raised that to 7.8 this season, well above his 5.2 career average. Among all players who aren’t power forwards or centers, Butler is fifth in average rebounds, behind only Russell Westbrook, Luka Doncic, James and Ben Simmons.
How does Butler explain his rebounding numbers soaring since joining the Heat?
“I just go get the ball; that’s what’s needed,” he said. “That’s what they ask me to do. I affect the game in numerous amounts of ways. I think I’m a decent player.”
Adebayo ranks 15th in the league in rebounding at 9.6 per game and 11th among centers. After producing double figures in boards in only six of the Heat’s first 15 games, he has now done it in eight of the last nine.
Butler’s 20.1 scoring average is up slightly over the past two seasons; he’s seventh among all small forwards in that category.
Butler remains among the best in the league at drawing contact and getting to the line. His 7.1 free throws per game are fourth most in the league and his 86.2 free-throw percentage is 32nd.
“He is an artist,” Utah guard Donovan Mitchell said after watching Butler score 33 points on Friday. “I put him in the James Harden category. If you were to watch how to draw fouls from a guard standpoint, those are two guys that understand all the little things. He finds clever ways to get to the free throw line. I’ve been watching him because I have been trying to do the same myself.”
Thanks in part to the evolution of his mid-range game, Adebayo’s scoring average has jumped from 15.9 to 19.6 - fourth among centers, behind only Joel Embiid, Jokic and Nikola Vucevic. And Adebayo’s 56.9 shooting percentage is best among all centers who are averaging at least 12 shots per game.
Guard Tyler Herro, who has missed three games in a row with a hip injury, was again listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against Atlanta. Avery Bradley (calf) remains out. Adebayo (knee) is probable.