Is Butler scoring drop significant? What the data shows on his game. And what he’s saying

As the Heat begins postseason with a play-in game at Philadelphia on Wednesday (7 p.m., ESPN), the question isn’t whether Jimmy Butler can once again be the best player on the court — more often than not — when the calendar turns to late April and May.

The question is whether he can be close enough to the best player.

That often wasn’t the case when the Heat faced elite offensive teams in recent weeks.

There was the damaging April 4 loss to Philadelphia when Tyrese Maxey scored 37 and Joel Embiid 29, while Butler was held to 20 on 7-for-17 shooting.

There was the humbling April 10 blowout loss to Dallas when Luka Doncic scored 29 and Kyrie Irving 25, and Butler mustered 12 points on 5-for- 8 for shooting.

Since early March, Butler’s high-volume scoring games have dropped appreciably.

Butler topped 20 points on 20 occasions in his first 38 games this season. He scored 25 or more in 12 of those games.

Since scoring 37 on March 2 against Utah, Butler has topped 20 points only six times in 19 games and has scored 25 or more only three times.

With so much wear and tear on his body, and Butler improving his three-point shot this season, the natural question is whether he should continue this season’s trend of taking a greater percentage of his shots from beyond the three-point line as he reaches his mid-30s. (He turns 35 in September.)

Butler took 145 threes this season, compared with 119, 102, 116 and 103 during his first four seasons with Miami. He hit 41.4 percent of them this season, compared with 24.4, 24.5, 23.3 and 35.0 those previous four seasons.

Meanwhile, Butler’s two-point percentage dropped to 51.9, down from 56.4 last season.

So even though Butler has shot threes better and twos less effectively this season, he still shoots much better on twos than threes. And he’s reluctant to become a high volume three-point shooter, as he explained in a Slam Magazine interview and video-shoot released this week.

“I just don’t like shooting threes,” Butler said. “I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with it. I want to run, and I want to hit somebody. You can’t hit nobody if you shoot threes. I want to see who’s going to quit first. I’m going to keep running in there. I’m going to hit you, I’m going to hit you again, I’m going to hit you again, and we’re going to see who’s going to quit.

“I think we got enough guys in the league. We got enough guys on my team that can shoot and shoot at a high level, but if I’m not attacking the paint, if I’m not putting pressure on the rim, who else is going to do it? That’s the way that I look at it. So as I know I can shoot and make threes at a high clip, I do not want to do that. I want to run in there, and I want to run people over.”

Butler has two years remaining on his contract, due $48.8 million next season and $52.4 million in 2025-26. To resume being an All-NBA contender, he will need to return to elite offensive work in the post and midrange. The numbers this season reveal a decline:

Butler this season had 63 shots blocked on 793 attempts from the field this season, per NBA. com. That’s 7.9 out of every 100.

Last season, he had 53 of 888 shots blocked. That’s 5.9 out of 100.

This season, he had 59 shots blocked in the paint, including a handful in the past 10 games. Last season, that number was 50.

Per basketball reference, Butler made 169 of 300 layups this season (56.3 percent). Two years ago, it was 59.2 percent on those shots.

He shot 67.9 percent at the rim this season (shots of two feet or less) after finishing between 70.2 and 70.6 each of the previous three seasons.

▪ His free throw attempts are down from 8.7 to 7.7 per game from a year ago, with a subtle change in NBA officiating contributing to that.

On shots of 10 to 15 feet, Butler shot 39.1 percent this season, compared with 47.2 and 46.7 the past two seasons.

So there has been a shift in efficiency, albeit a subtle one.

The overall season numbers do not suggest a big decline. His 20.8 scoring average wasn’t down dramatically from 21.5, 21.4 and 22.9 the past three seasons, but a big drop from last season’s 28.8 in the playoffs.

His rebounds were down from 5.9 last season to 5.3, assists from 5.3 to 5.0, steals from 1.8 to 1.3, and the overall shooting percentage from 53.9 to 49.9.

The one area of the game with the biggest improvement? The one area he told Slam Magazine he doesn’t like doing (shooting threes).

But Butler was only 2 for 14 on clutch threes this season, suggesting that might not be the best late-game approach.

Shaquille O’Neal said because of “Playoff Jimmy,” the Heat will beat the 76ers on Wednesday and “all day, every day.”

Butler’s decent — but not exceptional — play in recent weeks has created doubts.

Butler, as usual, doesn’t have any doubts, at least none he would admit publicly.

“We’re overconfident in a good way,” he said. “Our coaching staff cares and makes sure everyone on our roster can stick to their strong suit. Our ownership cares…

“Nobody wants to see us in a seven-game series. We know that.”

The winner of Wednesday’s Heat at 76ers game will open the first round of the playoffs on Saturday in New York against the Knicks.

The loser of Wednesday’s game will play host to the Atlanta-Chicago winner on Friday, with the winner of that Friday game advancing to play against Boston in the first round beginning on Sunday.