Chicago Bulls wing Jimmy Butler may have played only 363 total minutes in his rookie season (including playoffs), but that's not going to stop me from gazing into the crystal ball and taking an educated guess on how he will perform going forward. It's obviously hard to predict how much improvement or lack there of a player may have as their career progresses, but I think we have seen just enough of Butler to have a decent idea of what type of player he will end up being.
Obviously, the thing that stood out most about Butler this season was his defensive prowess. And quite honestly, the sky is almost the limit for this kid on that end. I say almost because he's not an athletic freak or anything, so there are some physical limitations. However, he's athletic enough, and he helps make up for a lack of elite athleticism with hard work, aggressiveness and basketball IQ. He just knows how to defend.
I threw some stats out in my season review of Butler that highlighted his excellent defense (great team defense with him on court and some Carmelo Anthony numbers), and I have another one that bodes well for future success. According to Synergy Sports, Butler gave up a miniscule 0.48 points per play in isolation situations. On those plays, his opponents shot just 3-20 (15 percent) from the field. While this is certainly a small sample size, I think it's a pretty good indicator what type of defender he is. Even more impressive is the fact that about one third of those possessions came against Melo, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Call me a homer if you will, but I believe Butler could blossom into one of the NBA's best defenders a few years down the road, especially if he remains under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau. Butler just gets it, which simply is not the case for everybody. There are guys who are more gifted athletically, but are not as good defenders because they simply do not care enough or lack the proper coaching/technique.
I'm certainly not going to come out and say Butler will win a Defensive Player of the Year award or rack up multiple All-Defensive Team honors, but he will be knocking on that door.
The outlook is not quite as rosy on the offensive side of the ball. We saw some flashes, but for the most part, Butler was not much of a factor on offense. The potential is there for some significant improvement, but it may take a few years for him to become a guy who will be considered an offensive threat.
Butler did show off a respectable mid-range game and also displayed a nice ability to get to the free throw line. However, the jumper was inconsistent (as evidenced by his 9-26 shooting in spot up situations and 35 percent shooting on shots 16-23 feet) and his deep range is almost non-existent. Improving that jump shot will go a long way in determining how good of an offensive player he can be. He'll likely never be a sharpshooter, but developing a solid jumper could be the difference in him starting or being limited to a role player off the bench.
Ultimately, I look at Butler and see his ceiling as being a poor man's Luol Deng. So basically, a 12-15 point per game scorer that can lock down the opponent's best player. For a guy picked at the very end of the first round, I'd say this type of output down the road would be a very pleasant surprise.
On the other side of the coin, I'd say a Ronnie Brewer-type would be Butler's floor. Brewer has always been a very good defender and knows his role on offense, but he's limited by a poor jump shot. I'd like to think that Butler will become a better offensive player than Brewer, but at the very worst, they could end up being pretty similar.
Speaking of Brewer, what the Bulls decide to do with him this offseason could help determine what type of progress Butler makes next year. Brewer is the guy currently ahead of Butler in the rotation, and if the Bulls do not pick up Brew's $4.37 million option, Butler would likely see quite a bit more playing time. He'll probably see more time anyway (at least early in the year for sure) due to Deng's wrist situation, but he could be in line for some big minutes if the Bulls do not bring Brewer back. Since next year may be a "lost" season because of the injuries to Deng and Derrick Rose, I would not necessarily mind going this route and getting Butler as many minutes as possible.
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