Jimmy Butler was the apple of our eye for the first two months of the season. Butler was the Bulls' best player, a legitimate MVP candidate and a guy hurtling toward a max contract in the offseason. His improvement had Chicago looking like the favorite in the Eastern Conference, even without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah playing at their best.
But in the last two weeks since Butler missed the Jan. 3 game against the Celtics due to bereavement leave, we've seen a different player. Some natural regression was to be expected, but it has hit especially hard. Here's his shooting chart before Jan. 3:
Butler was above league average in all three of the standard two-point zones, and over 47 percent of his shots came in the paint. He also took 8.1 free throws a game, one of the best marks in the entire league.
But here's Butler's shot chart in his last six games:
Butler is below league average in the three standard two-point zones over the last six games, and less than a third of his shots have come in the paint. And if that's not bad enough, he has shot just 25 percent from the paint on those attempts. Furthermore, he's averaging 6.0 free throws over the last six game, still good but not as good as before.
With just six field goals in the paint, Butler has scored just two points per game in the paint in the last six games. That's compared to 8.1 points in the paint in the 31 games prior. One of the problems is he's not getting as many easy baskets on plays he often makes due to hustle (stats via NBA.com):
|PTS OFF TO||2nd PTS||FBPs|
|First 31 games||3.9||2.4||3.2|
|Last 6 games||2.2||1.0||2.2|
It of course must be noted that Butler's slide has coincided with the absence of Mike Dunleavy due to an ankle injury. While some regression for Butler was expected, I don't think it's much of a coincidence that Butler has been especially poor with Dunleavy on the pine.
For the season, Butler has shot 50.7 percent when he shares the court with Dunleavy, per NBA.com. When Butler has been on the floor and Dunleavy has been on the bench, Butler has shot just 40.0 percent. I think there are multiple explanations for this.
One, Dunleavy's floor spacing opens up the floor for Butler, which helps create more driving lanes. With Kirk Hinrich or Tony Snell out there, teams are more content to pack the paint. This has led to more jump shots and tougher shots in the paint when Butler does drive to the hoop. Nearly 60 percent of Butler's shots in the last six games have been with zero dribbles, per SportVU, and he has shot just over 20 percent on shot attempts after three or more dribbles.
Another factor with no Dunleavy was pointed out by SB Nation's own Mike Prada during the Wizards game, and was also discussed in the comments on Blog a Bull:
Anecdotally, the absence of Dunleavy hurts Butler the most. Makes it easier to put a bigger guy on Jimmy and take away his post game.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) January 15, 2015
Butler's advanced post game has been a huge part of his improvement this season. For the season, Butler has scored 1.115 PPP on post-ups, according to Synergy Sports Technology. That's in the 94 percentile of the entire NBA.
But with Butler playing the 3 with Dunleavy out, teams are more apt to use a bigger defender on Butler, like the Wizards have done with Paul Pierce. Butler had just one play designated as a post-up in the last two games against Washington, per Synergy.
Dunleavy won't be back Friday night against the Celtics, so we'll see if Butler can end his slump without the veteran forward out there. The Bulls need Butler to regain his form (or at least come close) from the first two months if they want to win a championship, and it would be nice to see him do that without Dunleavy on the floor. Dunleavy is an important glue guy for Chicago, but he shouldn't be so important that Butler goes from an MVP candidate to just another dude without him.
If there's a positive here, it's that Butler has started to find his stroke from outside. While the rest of Butler's shooting has cratered without Dunleavy, he has shot 38.5 percent from deep in the last three games. If Butler can keep that up and also shoot twos like he was before, he'll be an absolute monster.
Finally, I'm just hoping me talking about Butler slumping will lead to a turnaround, because apparently the exact opposite happens when Blog a Bull talks about how great a player is.