Watch the way Jimmy Butler plays basketball and it’s not difficult to see he’s a smart player. He’s rarely out of position, never forces a bad shot and seems to have a perfect scouting report on his opponent, more specifically his offensive matchup that evening.
But for such a smart player, Butler admitted Saturday afternoon that the key to his recent success and improved play is not thinking about it.
“I feel like I’m in a really good groove right now, and I just can’t think about it,” he said after the team’s shootaround at the Berto Center. “When I think about it everything goes to…bad things. If you just play basketball and let the game come to you, everything’s a lot easier.”
Butler has dealt with a myriad of injuries this season, including a sore knee, turf toe, bruised ribs and overall soreness that he admitted comes with the territory – he took a shot to the midsection from an errant LeBron James elbow on Sunday – but he seems to have put all those bumps and bruises behind him.
The last month of the season has been Butler’s best; the third-year shooting guard is averaging 14.8 points on 47 percent shooting, 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 39 minutes per game. Before that stretch, which began on Feb. 11 against Denver, Butler was shooting less than 37 percent from the field and averaged 4.8 free throw attempts per game.
But a healthy Butler has been able to penetrate defenses more, resulting in higher percentage looks and more trips to the charity stripe.
“I think I’ve been getting to the paint, getting to the line more. Just not thinking about it,” he said. “When I think about something, I’m pretty bad. When I don’t and I shoot to make it and play hard, everything falls in place.
“I can stay on the floor. I don’t have to worry about my body and I can just go extremely hard. And I feel a lot of that is because I’ve been taking care of my body a lot better.”
Added Thibodeau: “He’s probably been as healthy as he’s been all year. He’s found a good rhythm offensively. His defense has been there all year but the offensive rhythm, it’s hard to do that when you don’t practice or you can only practice a certain amount. And I think that’s why practice is so important in this league. It’s too good of a league to not have good practice habits. That’s what prepares you to play.”
Good practice habits are nothing new to Butler, who in just his third season has taken on a veteran’s presence in the locker room in the way he goes about his business. Now able to add health to his skill set and attitude, Butler is ready for the stretch run and is making sure his teammates are, too.
“I feel like every time we come into this gym you’ve got to have that winning, championship mentality. If it’s a walk-through, a film session, you’ve always got to be locked in," he said.