When Jimmy Butler was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the 30th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, I really had no idea what to think. I had not seen much of him at Marquette, so I was pretty unfamiliar with his game. After reading more about him, it was apparent that he was a Tom Thibodeau type of guy: an athletic defender who brought max effort every time he stepped on the floor. There were major doubts on whether Butler would crack the rotation because of the quality depth in front of him, but at the very least, he seemed like a guy who could be competent if forced into action.
As expected, Butler saw sporadic time throughout the season, but he acquitted himself rather nicely in the minutes that he did see. His offense is still a major work in progress, but he showed flashes of being a big-time defender in the NBA. He never backed down from a challenge, and on several occasions, he found himself matched up against guys like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. And he did a darn good job against them.
Stats: 42 GP, 8.5 MPG, 2.6 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 40.5 FG%
Positives: I have to start with the defense. Butler showed a ton of potential on the defensive end in his limited minutes. He's a tireless worker that uses his length/athleticism to his advantage. The Bulls were a stout defensive team to begin with, but they were even more stingy with the rookie wing on the court. According to NBA.com, the Bulls had a Defensive Rating of 89.1 when Butler was playing.
Now while it's true that a good portion of that was likely garbage time, Butler did see some meaningful minutes this season. In fact, he got some high quality time against the New York Knicks, in which he often found himself matched up against the aforementioned Carmelo Anthony. And as I said, he did a hell of a job against him. In 43 minutes with Butler on the court, Melo shot just 29 percent from the field. Much of this was due to Butler's harassing defense.
Offensively, Butler did not show all that much, although he did have a knack for getting to the free throw line. There was a string of four games in March where he got to the line a total of 19 times. For a guy who does not have much of an offensive game as of yet, that's pretty impressive. It says a lot about his aggressiveness, which is a positive sign going forward.
Negatives: As I've already said, the offense needs quite a bit of work. While there were some flashes, most of the time Butler was a non-factor on offense. His jumper was very inconsistent and he did not show much range. It's something that must improve if he wants to garner bigger minutes in the NBA. Plus, him developing an offensive game would be a boost for a Bulls offense that sometimes struggles to score (and one that will really need scoring next year).
And although Butler did pretty well in the regular season, it was not enough to earn Tom Thibodeau's trust in the postseason. Butler played just four minutes in the Bulls' first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, despite the fact that Chicago struggled throughout a good portion of it. However, I do not think this should reflect all that poorly on Butler. Thibs just did not trust a rarely used rookie in a pressure packed playoff series. Understandable.
Outlook: It will be interesting to see what kind of progress Butler makes heading into next season. It will also be interesting to see if his role increases. If guys like Ronnie Brewer and/or Kyle Korver are not brought back, Butler may see an increased role. I personally think Butler makes Brewer expendable because they are very similar players, but it still would not surprise me if the Bulls brought Ronnie back. Either way, I'm excited to see how Butler continues to improve his game. I really like this kid.
Final Grade: I had pretty low expectations, so I was definitely impressed with some of the stuff I saw out of the rook. His offense was not all that good, but his defense alone helps earn Butler a solid B.
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