Supremely talented, severely overlooked. Such has been the theme of the unorthodox career of Jimmy Butler so far. Coming out of high school, Butler was ranked the 72nd player in Texas. While that would stand as an accomplishment for most, it meant that Butler was unlikely to draw much attention from college scouts- as they primarily focus on Top 20 prospects.
Having been spurned by Division-I schools, a defiant Butler continued his basketball journey at the JUCO level- playing for the University of Texas at Tyler.
“Junior college was the only opportunity I had to get an education,” Butler said in an interview with NBA TV. “I was a kid. I had no idea what I wanted to do or be. They said you can go to school for free and play basketball and that was enough for me; I’m good with that. I didn’t care where it was. But it is a message I tell kids: You have to be confident in whatever you do because if you don’t believe you can do it, it doesn’t matter if anyone else thinks. I believe if you can really do something you can.”
Ignoring the bleak outlook on his pro basketball dreams, Butler worked tirelessly to improve his game and become a more complete player. He worked so hard, in fact, that he received an invitation to play at Marquette University- whom Butler consequently sent his National Letter of Intent to via fax from a local McDonald’s. In just a few years time, Butler blossomed into a school star and fringe NBA first-rounder. All thanks to his incredible work ethic and never-say-die attitude- two components that continue to drive him as he carves out his NBA legacy.
“I feel like I’ve never been the best player,” Butler stated when asked about his looming free agency in 2014. “I’ve never been highly recruited, so I’ve always had all the chips stacked up against me and I’ve always found a way to make things happen.”
While Butler has never been considered the absolute best at his position at any level, he’s certainly not far down the list when discussing the premier players of today. Now with a plethora of NBA accolades to his name- 4x All-Star, 4x All-Defensive Second Team, 2015 Most Improved Player, and 2x All-NBA Third Team- Butler is uniquely positioned to attain the only thing missing from his legacy- postseason glory.
Making the playoffs is nothing new for Butler, as he has done so in every season but one so far. It’s the deep playoff runs that seem to elude him, however. The two-way star was often ousted by LeBron James-led squads during his time with the Chicago Bulls and never had a real shot at going deep with Minnesota in a loaded Western Conference. Despite Butler’s best efforts, his teams simply weren’t deep enough to achieve much more than an early exit in the playoffs.
Now, as one of five starters to average 17+ PPG during the regular season, Butler finally has the supporting cast to make a deep postseason run- one his teammates believe could result in championship glory.
“I think everybody’s kind of on that same wave mindset to where we’re trying to win a championship,” Ben Simmons stated following their series-clinching victory over the Nets.
“We think we can win it all. Obviously, it is going to take a lot,” Joel Embiid admitted in a postgame interview. “You’ve got some great teams in the league. We’re about to play one of them and then the next one will not be easy, either Milwaukee or Boston, and then you’ve got the West, which is pretty tough. We just have to take one game at a time, but we understand that we’ve got all the talent that we need, especially to win it all.”
Piggybacking Embiid’s comments a bit, maneuvering through the playoff scene will be no small order for the Sixers, but they possess more than enough talent to do so. Especially if Jimmy Butler heats up.
First things first, however, Philly must take care of business north of the border as they square-off with the Toronto Raptors. With lockdown defender Kawhi Leonard expected to trail Ben Simmons most of the series in hopes to stymie the flow of the Sixers offense, it may be up to Butler to fill the beta dog role beside Embiid to top the surging Raps.
No stranger to exceeding expectations, Butler should have little trouble elevating his game as the Sixers advance deeper in the postseason. Just like fellow 2011 draftee and Toronto star Kawhi Leonard before him, Butler may need a dominant and wildly successful playoff run to cement himself as one of the elite talents in the NBA.
Upsetting the No.2 seeded Raptors will be quite the challenge, one the defiant Butler no-doubt looks forward to and could result in the 4x All-Star finally being ranked amongst the elite- where he belongs.