This week in the Bulls: The Bulls somehow completed the Oregon Trail without dying of dysentery by finishing above .500 on the Circus Trip for only the second time since the age of MJ, Kirk Hinrich committed the stupidest foul Dirk's ever seen but Dirk loves him anyway, D. Rose hit a one-handed floater from the top of the three-point line to send the Mavericks game into double OT and acted like it was nothing, Pau played 50 minutes against Dallas and then 36 in Charlotte the next night, the Bulls now sit fourth in East at 12-7.
The NBA regular season is a marathon, but we've already learned quite a bit about the Chicago Bulls from the first mile of the race.
Pau Gasol looks like an inspired free agent acquisition as a 7-footer still skilled enough to allow the offense to run through him out of the high post. Derrick Rose's return remains a work in progress filled with brilliant highs and vexing lows. Nikola Mirotic will be a factor -- he's already playing more than any Bulls rookie ever has under Tom Thibodeau, and it's obvious his impact is only starting to take shape. The health problems that have plagued the last three seasons will continue to be an issue. The Bulls look not all that dissimilar from how we thought they would at the beginning of this season: the ceiling is high, the injury risk is high and the variance of it all is what keeps this team compelling.
There's been one storyline that has superseded the rest 19 games into this season, though. For the Bulls, this is the year of Jimmy Butler.
The path to stardom in the NBA is rarely linear, and it hasn't been for Butler. Buried deep on Thibodeau's bench as a rookie (Butler's rookie minutes: 359, Mirotic's minutes through 19 games: 342), Butler broke out as a capable NBA wing in his second season. He went toe-to-toe with Kobe and hit a Jordan-esque fadeaway in his face. He played five 48-minute games in the playoffs and defended LeBron James about as well as one can. He even became bros with Mark Wahlberg.
Last season was a step back. Butler battled through injuries early in the year and never seemed to find a rhythm. He was still tough as hell and as willing as ever to defend his ass off, but the offensive progress he flashed in Year II started to feel like a mirage. He ended the season shooting under 40 percent from the field and under 30 percent from deep, even if his contributions were still invaluable to an eternally banged up Bulls team.
What Butler has done through 19 games this season is nothing short of remarkable. Wednesday's 15-point effort in a win over the Hornets broke a streak in which Butler had scored 20 or more points in nine of his last 10 games. He's getting to the foul line more often than James Harden. His innate cutting ability has never been more vaulable. He's become automatic finishing at the rim. His role as a playmaker is expanding, too. All the while, Butler continues to defend the opposing team's best wing scorer every night.
Butler is going to face the same question until he does this for a full season: is this type of effort sustainable? At the moment, Butler is averaging 21.6 points per game. Only 13 players finished with a higher scoring average than that last season. Is Jimmy Butler really a top-15 scorer in this league? In a sense, it doesn't even matter.
The Bulls have proven to be bigger than the one-man army they were considered back in 2011, the last time they were healthy. Everyone has a role, and no one dares to freelance much outside of it. This is Butler's role now, one that has him a key offensive cog and not just a one-way defensive stopper. Whether he can continue to score 20 points every game or not, it's becoming evident a certain level of production is here to stay. Jimmy Butler is a damn good NBA player.
Butler was named the NBA's Player of the Month in November, the first of what will likely be many accolades for him this season. He's likely to be an All-Star, then likely to appear on the All-Defensive team again. When it's over, he'll be greeted by a new contract that will probably pay him $17 million per year. If you know anything about Butler's incredible backstory, this ascension to stardom feels even more meaningful.
The hemming and hawing over Rose will continue, because it's inevitable. Who knows if Pau will be able to stay healthy when he's averaging 36 minutes per game at age-34. Joakim Noah has made a habit of starting slow and then morphing into shape, but a knee issue this offseason throws that annual progression into question.
Whatever happens the rest of this season, it feels like the Bulls can count on Butler. That bet he made on himself is about to pay out in a big way.
i. am. a. chef.
Keep cookin', Jimmy. You're like two steps away from a Drake shout-out at this point.
The final word on Jimmy Butler
We all need two Jimmy Butlers in our lives.
The week in Kirk
I want to stop giving Hinrich such a hard time. As a backup playing, like, 15 minutes per game, he's not so bad. His defense is still solid, and after seeing Aaron Brooks get torched by Trey Burke in Utah, it's easy to appreciate it even more. Then he had to go out and do this:
Dirk on Kirk Hinrich's foul with 1.2 seconds left in regulation: "In my 17 years, it was one of the dumber fouls I've ever seen."— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) December 3, 2014
OK, so we've all seen that quote 100 times by now. Let's change it up a little bit:
LOL this is my new favorite stat. RT @cbefred: Hinrich has never played on an NBA team that has won 50 games.— BullsBlogger (@BullsBlogger) December 3, 2014
Kirk's still got it.
Pau is your ping pong champion
AB does not look amused.
Pau inspirational message of the week
Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Let’s embrace a society without violence against women.— Pau Gasol (@paugasol) November 25, 2014
Pau picture of the week
Pau Gasol with two big buckets, y'all. pic.twitter.com/VjZIwW1YW6— Rey-Rey (@TheNoLookPass) December 3, 2014
Denver seems like a cool city
Who would want to watch the Nuggets sober?
Let's watch this 500 times on loop
Sure, this made sense. https://t.co/FnLrrFakhE— Nillz (@TheBullsShow) December 3, 2014
I was there. It was fun.
The Booze News
Also, let's take a moment to appreciate whatever hero discovered this gem:
Related: Thank you to commenter who uncovered this picture of Boozer: (credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports) pic.twitter.com/yo8XqA8gqL— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) December 5, 2014
This has been The Booze News.