Until now, no one thought of Jimmy Butler as the missing piece. Butler, an elite scorer and defender, has always led with his toughness and his evisceration of teammates. His rough edges often led the narrative only because Butler demanded so much from young players who balked. Many just couldn’t rise up to meet his expectations. Whether they were coddled or immature or just soft, they ended up pouting and sulking after Butler pointed out their transgressions. It gave Butler a kind of wild card persona. If he gets along with his young teammates, and if he doesn’t burn the house down, he’ll be a tremendous addition.
It was Butler who drove to the rim and hit the game tying layup against the Raptors in Game 7 of the NBA playoffs only to have Kawhi Leonard one up him with a walk off. Butler is fierce and lethal in the moment. Accordingly, the Miami Heat have the second best record in the East.
Pascal Siakam didn’t have the torch handed to him. It was dropped in his lap when he wasn’t paying attention. After Kawhi Leonard bolted Canada, Siakam was the natural next man up. He took it in stride and has performed better than expectations. There were some cynics who saw Siakam’s production last year as an extension of Kawhil Leonard; without Leonard would Siakam feel lost? Uh, no.
Siakam’s stat line: 23.5 points. 7.7 rebounds. 35 minutes. 9 30-point games. 1 40-point game. 1 18 rebound game.
Butler also has very good numbers. 20.3 points. 7.0 rebounds. 3 30-point games. 2 13-assist games. 1 18-rebound game.
Butler has a higher PER of 23.7 to Siakam’s 18.5. His offensive rating of 122 blows Siakam’s 106 out the water with a lower usage rate than Siakam. Neither are blowing anyone away with their jump shots but only Butler has a 50% shooting in any one quarter (the first). Butler is a better defender and is money on the road while Siakam prospers at home.
So why did Jimmy Butler not make the All-Star team. Was it the fans? Did the media punish him for being outspoken and edgy? Did fellow players underrate his first half?
Let’s take it one at at time. Fans ranked Butler 4th among front court players, leaving him on the outside, preferring Siakam. Butler could have made up ground but took a tumble with his peers. They ranked him behind Bam Adebayo and Jayson Tatum for 6th. The media ranked Butler 4th.
Cumulatively, of front court players, Jimmy Butler was 4th in fan/media/player totals. Pascal Siakam was 3rd in fan/media/player totals (2nd in fan voting, 3rd in players voting, and 4th in media voting).
Butler will be in the All-Star game in Chicago as a reserve and may get a standing o because he is still beloved in Chi-town. If the voting for starters was based on a binary conclusion, Jimmy Butler would have slightly edged out Pascal Siakam. But players and the media vote their preferences and it all comes down to perception. Not who deserves what but who you think deserves what. Factoring in emotion means reputation and personal contact comes into play.
Both Jimmy Butler and Pascal Siakam are aspirational stories. Players who were handed absolutely nothing. Both were late first round draft picks who had to earn everything. Butler got a break when Derrick Rose went down but he had to earn the opportunity in front of him. Siakam had to pay his dues in the D-League before he could show his game. Partnered with Leonard, he learned valuable lessons about work ethic and habits.
Because Butler has been an All-Star before, it probably doesn’t matter how he gets in. But for newbie Pascal Siakam he got a gift in January, one he earned that was that much sweeter when surprised by his brother.