The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are set to face off twice this week, setting the table for what should be highly entertaining matchups between two of the most talented teams in the East.
Meeting for the first time since Miami knocked off Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, you know the Celtics are coming back with a vengeance. But with the Heat getting off to a slower-than-expected start to the 2020-21 campaign, these games still hold plenty of meaning for the reigning Eastern Conference champs.
One of the marquee matchups ahead comes from the All-Star showdown between Jimmy Butler and Jayson Tatum. Two incredibly gifted basketball players in different stages of their careers, they both bring something different to their respective teams.
Which player would you rather have this season: Butler or Tatum?
Two members of our NBA.com Staff, Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_) and Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21) make their case for each side.
Who would you rather have: Jimmy Butler or Jayson Tatum?
Irving's case for Tatum: Even after seeing how great Jimmy Butler was in the 2020 NBA Playoffs and NBA Finals, I'm still going Tatum.
Since being named an All-Star for the first of many times to come in his career last season, the 22-year-old forward has taken a gigantic leap and has not once looked back. Averaging 26.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 47% from the field and 46% from 3 for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, it was clear this version of Tatum was here for good.
He even took things to another level in the playoffs, posting 25.7 points, 10.0 rebounds. 5.0 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while maintaining a solid 43% shooting from the field and 37% from 3 despite taking nearly 20 shots a game.
The list of players that have averaged 25 points, 10 boards, five assists, one block and one steal per game in the playoffs: LeBron James, Larry Bird, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Blake Griffin and Tatum.
The list of players to achieve that criteria and reached the Conference Finals or beyond: LeBron, Bird and Tatum. James didn't do it until he was 30. Bird didn't do it until he was 27. Tatum did it at 22 years old.
He hasn't skipped a beat this season either, appearing to take another step forward as one of the best players in the NBA. He's already knocked down two game-winners and is fresh off of challenging his career-high in scoring with a 40-point outburst to carry the Celtics past the Raptors.
Meanwhile, in just four games played, Butler has failed to score more than five points twice. Maybe it's fatigue from a long and tiring playoff run. Maybe that was just lightning in a bottle last postseason.
Those are questions that still need to be answered, but this overarching question is already solidified in my book. Give me Jayson Tatum any day of the week.
McGregor's case for Butler: After seeing how great Jimmy Butler was in the 2020 NBA Playoffs and NBA Finals, he's clearly the correct answer here.
Butler is so special because his impact goes beyond being measured by traditional stats, although those are pretty impressive at times, too. In the 2020 Playoffs, Butler finished with averages of 22.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals over 21 games, which is especially impressive considering he scored just six points in Miami's closeout win over the Indiana Pacers in the opening round and just 13 points in a Game 2 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, though that did include game-winning free throws that came after time had expired.
The common thread of those two games? Miami won. And it's clear that's all Butler cares about. Whether he scores six points or 40 points - and he did both last postseason - he just wants to win, and he'll do whatever it takes to do so.
We saw Butler do just that after All-Star teammate Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic went down in the NBA Finals. Clearly outmatched and facing a 3-0 series deficit in the eye, Butler put the team on his back to finish with 40 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds to lift Miami to a Game 3 win. Five days later, Butler responded to the Heat facing elimination by finishing with 35 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and five steals to keep Miami's title hopes alive for one more night.
Here's the list of players to score 35 or more points, pull down 10 or more rebounds, dish out 10 or more assists and grab five or more steals in an NBA Finals game:
- Jimmy Butler - Game 5, 2020 NBA Finals
A bum ankle has resulted in Butler not looking like himself to begin the 2020-21 season but I know for certain he's more concerned with the team's record than his scoring numbers, which, I'm confident will improve as his condition does.
Butler finds ways to fill it up but I can admit that he isn't a better pure scorer than Tatum. What I do know is that Butler is still the superior rebounder, playmaker and still has the edge on the defensive end as well, and although Tatum continues to improve in those areas, he's not where Butler is just yet.
I'll take the guy that does it all at a higher level.
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Before the season, eight members of our NBA.com Staff ranked who they believed were the 30-best players in the NBA. To put into perspective how close this is, five members of our NBA.com Staff ranked Tatum ahead of Butler and four ranked Butler ahead of Tatum.
I was one of those who had Tatum ahead of Butler ... by one spot.
For me, it comes down to believing that the best is yet to come for Tatum, whereas I can't shake the feeling that Butler might have reached the peak of his powers in Miami's run last postseason. I could be wrong - Butler has proven time and time again that it's risky to count him out - but my gut says, Tatum.
Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay): You can't go wrong with either pick and both Gil and Kyle did an awesome job arguing for their guy but I'm also going with Tatum. Gil had me until he said that Butler was still a better defender than Tatum.
We all know how good Tatum is offensively, but what puts him over the top to me is his improvement and willingness to lock in defensively on a nightly basis. This doesn't mean that I think Butler's defence has fallen off, this is me praising the work Tatum has put in over the last year and a half on that end of the floor.
Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): Given Tatum's ascension to All-Star status and his continued offensive development, this is a tough one, but I'm rolling with Gil and Jimmy Butler. Rarely have we seen a superstar with the unselfishness of the Heat's leader and the ability to elevate the players around him and he's proven on the biggest stage that he can be the man and affect games on both sides of the ball.
Final Score: 2 votes for Tatum, 1 vote for Butler
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