A big part of Monday night's victory over the Lakers was the majority of Jimmy Butler's 43-minute game being spent defending Kobe Bryant, helping limit Kobe to one of his worst games of the season.
After the game (but before the part where he started going demented), Bryant gave a rare acknowledgement to the young Bull, citing him amongst other factors.
Thibs does a great job. Every time he faces me he does a great job. Most of the looks I had tonight were tough shots. Some of the credit goes to the young fellow, Butler did a good job defensively. A lot of that is on me and us, having to try to manufacture something 30 feet from the hoop with a low shot clock is tough.
In the victors locker room, there were chants of 'Kobe stopper' and other deserved praise from teammates.
As mentioned in the game recap, Bryant is the type of player Butler has shown a unique ability to hassle defensively: those not able to out-quick Jimmy and being forced to use moves and tricks that the second-year player is surprisingly already adept at facing. This was also the case in Butler's prior start against Rudy Gay, as well as a couple of instances in his career against Carmelo Anthony.
In a Grantland column (ht: commenter THEKILLERWHALE) by Robert Mays about how the Bulls have been successful this season, Butler's influence is noted:
Butler played just 8.5 minutes per game last season, and this year, that number has jumped by more than 10. His performance in Deng's absence has been impressive (14 points and 45.5 minutes per game), but it's actually slightly misleading. When Rose returns, one of the ways the Bulls can get even better is with more Butler, but that increase should probably come with Deng on the floor.
Chicago's best five-man lineup this season has been the one consisting of Kirk Hinrich, Butler, Deng, Gibson, and Noah. Much like the success of last year's second unit, this group has been driven by its defense. In just under 48 minutes this year, the group has tallied a +/- of 25 and a defensive rating of 78. By using Butler at the 2, the Bulls have their two best wing defenders and two best interior defenders in the same lineup, and the result is a nightmare for anyone interested in scoring.
As explained in the rest of the post, there are clear issues on offense with a Butler/Deng wing pairing, and it certainly doesn't solve the issues (that even the full-strength 2010-12 Bulls had) when it came to a secondary scorer and ballhandler. In that department he's still the 3rd best SG currently on the roster (and maybe 4th in the Bulls eyes given their Kurtfatuation) and while defense is king in Chicago, to me it's a bit too much of an extreme (against the Lakers D it definitely can work, heh).
But it's been a great development this season to see Butler emerge in this role, not only as a sub but being able to reasonably compensate for games Luol Deng has missed. I'm not at the point where I want to consider his future as Deng's replacement in two seasons, and don't think he's the SG of the future. But he's done the job handed to him this offseason in replacing Ronnie Brewer, and should be given more minutes either to give Deng much-needed rest or in playing more small-ball with Butler/Deng at the 3/4. And given the unfortunate unlikelihood of the Bulls trying to add talent in the next two seasons, it's no longer that scary if he's perhaps the SG of the present.