Doctor MJ wrote:The Heat played 2 serious contenders: The Bucks and the Lakers.
The Bucks had by far the best defense in the regular season, and were fine against their non-Heat opponent.
The Lakers had the most respected defense of the playoffs.
Answers that relate to Davis or teams planning around that offensive strategy I get, but answers that just assume that this was him getting hot, I'm not sure I do despite the fact that I'll acknowledge that I've used that precise language during the playoffs run. Dude wasn't thriving based on taking crazy 3 pointers. He was getting to the inside and drawing tons of fouls while also making great reads to his teammates. Much of this looks pretty sustainable to me short of actual defensive counter strategies (or outlier opponent talent like Davis).
What is very important to me is that nearly all of Jimmy's buckets were against players not named LeBron or Davis. (Also worth noting, there was not a hint of help on many plays b/c of MIA's shooting). LA allowed the switch for most of the series, so this is not a surprise, and it wouldn't make sense to punish Butler for taking advantage of the situation. But it is important context because this was a significant advantage that won't always be present. To what degree does Butler's scoring volume and efficiency translate to a different environment where there is less shooting and he can't have whatever matchup he wants?
An argument I see is that AD is the only Laker who limited Butler, and since an athlete like AD is a rarity, most teams wouldn't have a good matchup for Butler anyways. I understand that but I'm unconvinced that AD was the only player who had success on Butler. For the most part Butler refused to directly attack LeBron and I think that says a lot about how MIA thought that matchup would go. In G6 when the Lakers were building their first half lead, a few Heat possessions were lost because MIA couldn't switch LeBron off Butler, and they ran down the clock trying to get LeBron switched until there were no good options. On one of these possessions, MIA switched AD onto Butler, which I think is an even tougher matchup but goes back to how MIA may have felt about LeBron as the defender. All that's to say I don't think a unicorn like AD is needed to defend Butler. I think a very good athlete is required but I feel there's more than one or two defenders in the league who can play Butler well.
I will add I'm not super high on his defense (by that I mean he's very good but imo below a strong first team all-defense player). I see you mention his five steals in G5 but some context is needed. One of those steals was pure generosity by the box scorers and another was Dwight throwing the ball to a side of the court that only had Heat players. Butler's steal were equivalent to AD blocking two shots that would have never gone in anyways, a pair of jumpers that had a chance, and one layup. That's 5 blocks on paper but the impact is more like 2. Good but not shifting my opinion much.
So I think Butler's mega-scoring nights are reproducible if you expect him to 1) have great shooters around him and 2) be able to play the mismatches. This is totally possible in the right matchups but we can't expect that to always be the case. In general settings I see Butler as a mid-20s scorer on good but not staggering efficiency. With his many other positive attributes (very proficient passer, great time and effort on rebounds, can play heavy minutes) I think he has a good argument for being anywhere in the 9-6 range and in the future I might look back and think he should be even higher.