The NBA's Most Valuable Player award tends to go to the best player on the best regular-season team. At times, it's more of a popularity contest mixed with a beauty contest than it is about who is truly the most valuable player to his team. It's just easier to gauge, through wins and losses, that LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo is valuable to a team that wins a lot. It's much harder to deem a player extremely valuable when his play is the reason for a team winning 20 of 45 games.
If there was a true Most Valuable Player award, it might be better labeled the Most Important Player award. If that award existed, Jimmy Butler would be the odds-on favorite to repeat as the recipient. There's currently no player in the NBA who means more to his team than Jimmy Butler does to the Miami Heat.
The Heat is 17-17 this season after Sunday night's win over the Atlanta Hawks, their sixth victory in a row. But the team is 13-8 in games where Jimmy Butler has played. Since his return from the COVID-restriction list, the Heat is an entirely different team. It's gone from one of the worst defenses in the league to, at times, looking much more like the team that came two wins from an NBA championship last season.
Last 15 games— Ethan J. Skolnick of @5ReasonsSports (@EthanJSkolnick) February 27, 2021
LeBron James: 26/9/9
Jimmy Butler: 22/9/9
Butler in fewer minutes. Heat are a top 5 defense since Butler’s return
10-5 record @5ReasonsSports
Butler is averaging 20 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.8 assists a game, a stat line that reminds Heat fans of something they only saw during the Big 3 era with LeBron James or in the peak of Dwyane Wade's career. Butler is not just having any season. Butler is having an excellent season by almost any player's standards, in one of the toughest seasons of his career.
It's clear who the Miami Heat is when Jimmy Butler isn't on the floor: one of the worst teams in the NBA. If you remove LeBron from the Lakers or Giannis from the Bucks, both teams are still competitive. The Lakers would be led by Anthony Davis — arguably the best player in the NBA on any given day — and the Bucks would still have Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday, two borderline All-Stars.
Bam Adebayo is a Top 20 player, but it's been proven by this point that he can't put the Miami Heat on his back. It's just not his style. His offensive game isn't at that level.
Jimmy Butler is the engine of the Miami Heat. Without him, the Heat isn't a threat to beat any team in the Eastern Conference. It's a threat for the first-overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Heading into the midway point of the season, Jimmy Butler deserves a good amount of Most Valuable Player votes. He won't win the award, but if the title made sense, he might. No matter what sort of recognition the national media and fans give him, Miami knows he's the Heat's undeniable, unanimous MVP.
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