During a Miami Heat victory on Sunday, Jimmy Butler became the third player to ever record a 40-point triple-double in the NBA Finals.
One of the more unique ways that he was able to score was with frequent trips to the charity stripe. Butler was fouled 11 times during Game 3, per Synergy, connecting on 12 attempts at the free-throw line.
This highlights a trend for Butler, who was fouled 10 times during the second game of the series as well. In fact, the Miami star leads all players in the postseason with 123 fouls drawn thus far. But it is not just because he has played more games.
He has 9.0 fouls drawn per 100 possessions during the playoffs, nearly identical to the rate that superstar James Harden (9.1 per 100) was fouled in the postseason. Similarly, his rate in the regular season (9.6 fouls drawn per 100) trailed Harden’s by just 0.3 fouls drawn per 100.
Even though Harden is the player most people think of when it comes to drawing contact from defenders, Butler has long been elite as well. The 31-year-old has ranked in the 90th percentile or better in this metric among wings during each of his nine seasons in the league, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Breaking it down, Butler was fouled on 24.8 percent of all shot attempts during the regular season. This led all non-big men who played at least 120 minutes in 2019-20. That rate (23.7 percent) has also been consistent in the postseason, once more leading all non-big men.
As a method of slowing him down, opponents have been more likely to foul Butler in the open court rather than in a set offense. He was awarded a free throw on 29.2 percent of possessions in transition, per Synergy, the most among the 200 players who have recorded at least 75 possessions on this play type in the regular season and postseason combined.
Butler has also been awarded a free throw on 23.7 percent of possessions when guarded one-on-one in isolation. This ranks third-best among the 100 players in the NBA who have recorded at least 40 possessions on this play type in the regular season and postseason combined.
His ability to draw fouls puts opponents at a severe disadvantage because they enter foul trouble earlier, reducing the amount of contact and pressure they can apply to Butler during the game. In some cases, it even means a star defender is sidelined in order to avoid more foul calls against him.
But most importantly, it gives Butler an opportunity to increase his scoring output with easy points at the line. Players need elite skills to succeed at the highest level and this has become one of Butler’s signature traits to success.