In praise of Bulls' Iron Man Jimmy Butler

USA TODAY Sports

Jimmy Butler has played all 48 minutes in three straight games. That's kind of ridiculous.

There was a quote I read immediately after last night's unbelievable/ridiculous/thrilling/insert adjective here win over the Heat that really gave me a good chuckle. It was from Thibs, and it was about BaB's new favorite son, Jimmy Butler. Courtesy of ESPN Heat writer Tom Haberstroh:

It's funny, because when Thibs says that Jimmy is going to "work the whole time," he LITERALLY means the whole damn time.

Butler played 48 minutes for the third straight game on Monday, the first time somebody has done that in the playoffs since Allen Iverson in 2005. Just think about that. Luol Deng's minutes had become a running joke around the league, but not even he has done anything like this. And with Deng likely not coming back anytime soon due to his strange illness, who knows when Butler will actually come out of a game next?

Of course, what makes all of this even more impressive is what Butler has actually done with all the time on the court, especially last night. 21 points, 14 rebounds and about as good as defense as you can play against the best player on the planet in LeBron James. We all knew that Butler would make LeBron work, but I don't think many of us expected the MVP to have just two points on 1-of-6 shooting at halftime. Butler did an amazing job either staying in front of LeBron or funneling him into Joakim Noah, who was waiting for James in the paint all night long.

LeBron inevitably got things going in the second half, but he still finished with "only" 24 points on 8-of-17 shooting. Just consider that LeBron had shot under 50 percent twice since March 20. It's obviously always a team effort when it comes to defending LeBron, but Jimmy did a hell of a job when he manned him up 1-on-1. And there was also a swat at the rim!

Offensively, Butler continued to impress even when not necessarily shooting all that well. He was a bit out of control on a few drives to the rims, but he did an excellent job drawing fouls, going 9-of-10 from the line. Those 10 free throws were more than LeBron and Dwyane Wade combined. I would have laughed in your face if you told me that would happen before the game. Then again, I also would have laughed in your face if you told me the Bulls would win. Just a night full of surprises.

I was worried that Butler would tire out due to guarding LeBron all game, but Jimmy saved his best for last, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the Bulls' 35-point fourth quarter. That included an acrobatic reverse layup at the end of the shot block when he caught Wade sleeping on a backdoor cut. Butler finished strong with the contact, something he has proved really adept at this season (shot 63.7 percent in the restricted area this year per NBA.com). Minutes later, Butler buried a contested corner three to put the Bulls up one after Ray Allen had just given the Heat a lead. I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped when Jimmy hit that one.

It really is incredible the progress that Butler has made over the course of this season. I have tried to temper my expectations with him compared to some of the more outlandish comparisons I have seen on this site, but it's becoming more and more difficult by the day to just not be really excited about this kid's potential. His defense is just about already elite, he has turned into a respectable three-point shooter and has shown a knack at getting to the basket, drawing fouls and finishing.

There's still a bit of work to do when it comes to the mid-range game and shooting off the dribble, but we know Butler has a tireless work ethic and he's sure to work diligently on those things over the summer. I'm not really sure what Butler's ceiling is at this point, but I'm not going to spend much time worrying about it. I'm just going to enjoy his progression. He's already much better than I ever really expected when the Bulls drafted him 30th in the 2011 NBA Draft. GarPax certainly deserves a ton of credit for this one.

And finally, it's going to be fun as hell watching Butler play with He Who Must Not Be Named (this is what I'm calling the Bulls' former MVP point guard the rest of this season unless he plays), whenever that may be.

Note by your friendly BullsBlogger, 05/07/13 8:58 PM CDT:
thought I'd chime in with a couple Jimmy Butler links that were posted in the fanshots earlier today:

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