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Jimmy Butler, Point God?

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Jimmy Butler has said he's going to give the point guard spot a try. Does he have what it takes?

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The Bulls are very thin at backup PG behind starter Derrick Rose. Returning backup Aaron Brooks turned in an up-and-down season, ending with a poor playoff performance. Behind Brooks, Kirk Hinrich looks like he may be done and E'Twaun Moore is still very much an unknown.

Jimmy Butler is looking to solve this problem and add to his already lengthy responsibilities as the team's primary defensive stopper and 20 ppg scorer. Butler told Sam Smith over at Bulls.com:

"First off, I think I am a point guard," Butler said without joking. "So I’ve done a heck of a lot of ball screen work, ball handling, getting into the paint and still handling, floaters, all that stuff point guards do. If I get a chance, high pick and roll more. I want some triple doubles. I’ve got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys where they can make shots. I told Fred. You ask what position I play, I say point guard."

Moving Butler over as the primary ballhandler during Rose-less stretches is an intriguing option for the Bulls given that they need help at that spot. He has very little experience playing the position though. Per Basketball-Reference's positional estimates, the Bulls have used Butler almost exclusively as a shooting guard/small forward throughout his career:

Butler does have some good things going for him though in terms of skills traditionally associated with point guard play. On the defensive end, Butler has proven that he can guard a range of players. His teammates on USA Basketball have apparently been giving him props. Butler told Sam Smith:

"You hear guys making jokes they don’t want to be guarded by me and they honor how many minutes I play and still how hard I play."

Offensively, Butler has always been extremely smart and careful with the ball. He had the lowest turnover rate on the team despite having a high usage rate. Butler was third on the team last season in assists per game at 3.3. While he has never been elite at setting up teammates, he was great at pushing the ball and attacking the basket, a skill that Hoiberg has hinted will be more utilized next year. Butler was in the 90th percentile in transition plays last year, so seeing him jet up the floor with the ball could potentially be a powerful weapon for Hoiberg to utilize.

Let Jimmy Be Harden

Kevin Ferrigan suggested months ago on this site that Butler take over more of the primary ballhandling for the Bulls in a role similar to the one James Harden plays with the Rockets. Ferrigan argued that Butler was well-suited to initiating offense because of his ability to play pick and roll, his point production on drives, and his very low turnover rate. Here's a compelling argument from Ferrigan:

Pick and Roll Creation

Butler is a tremendous pick and roll ball handler, when he's been allowed to do it. Per Synergy's play-type data, Jimmy is producing .93 points per possession as a P&R ball handler, good for roughly 89th percentile in the league. [note: he dropped to 83rd percentile by the end of the year] James Harden, by comparison, has produced .94 points per possession just a smidge ahead of Butler.

Driving Ability

Similarly, if you compare Jimmy's production just on drives (via SportsVU), he looks like a guy who should be doing much more on offense. Jimmy produces 1.25 team points per drive. Harden is superior, producing 1.34 team points per drive, but there's also the important context of the spacing and pace-pushing emphasized in the Rockets' system over the Bulls'.

Ball Security

Butler has been extremely ball secure this season, despite his uptick in scoring and overall usage. Per basketball-reference, Jimmy's only turning the ball over on 7.9% of possessions, easily the lowest mark of his career, despite his 21.6% usage rate, well above his previous seasons' rates of 14.9, 14.6, and 16.8 percent. Looking at the SportsVU data, Jimmy is turning it over just 2.6 times per 100 touches, on a total of 3,108 touches. James Harden, on the other hand, turns it over 5.3 times per 100 touches, on 4,365 touches. Derrick Rose has turned it over roughly 4 times per 100 touches on 3,661 total touches.

So, in short #LetJimmyBeHarden.

Hard work and new skills

It sounds kind of strange to think of Jimmy Butler as a point guard, but is it any more strange than thinking he could make such an impressive leap in performance last year?

Butler has shown himself to be an extremely hard worker during the summers. While most guys on USA Basketball are out partying in Las Vegas, Sam Smith reported that "Jimmy Butler was awake at 5 a.m. Wednesday working out, some six hours before USA Basketball’s informal practice session."

Remember, Butler made such leaps in his game last summer by doing nothing but working on his game. In Sports Illustrated's profile of Butler last summer, he told reporter Ben Golliver,

"I wanted to be so good at the game that we didn’t have cable, we didn’t have the Internet. Whenever we got bored, all we would do is go to the gym. We’d eat, sleep and go to the gym. We’d go three times a day because we didn’t have anything else to do."

Butler has proven in the past that when he sets his mind to a task in the summer, he can make big strides in his game. If he's focusing his energy on working on his point guard skills, it should be exciting to see how much he can grow in that area for the upcoming season.