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The Bulls are running Jimmy Butler into the ground

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This Week in the Bulls is back with concern for Jimmy Butler and your daily dose of Aaron Gray. Don't get locked out.

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NBA: Washington Wizards at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls and Wizards spent the first three quarters on Wednesday night trading bricks from three-point range. The Bulls’ offense was dependent on turning those misses into putbacks while the Wizards’ offense relied on spinning them into fast break opportunities.

It was the sort of ugly, late-December game the NBA will give you every so often, and it left the Bulls in a compromised position: the score tied after three quarters, the Bulls needing to win the fourth to win the game. It triggered a familiar feeling of dread.

[Ron Howard voice] The Bulls did not win this game.

Washington outscored the Bulls by 10 in the fourth quarter, as the defense failed to contain John Wall in transition and the offense devolved into its usual charade of doomed isolation possessions. This has been the story for the Bulls all season and there’s more than enough evidence now to suggest it’s a real problem.

There was reason to believe the Bulls would actually be good at finishing games coming into this season. With Jimmy Butler on one wing and Dwyane Wade on the other, the Bulls had two verified closers to carry them in the final minutes. It hasn’t happened for a number of reasons, but there’s one that jumps out in particular.

The Bulls are running Butler into the ground before he can save them in crunch time.

Butler went 0-for-4 from the field in the final period on Wednesday as the offense cratered around him. As Will and Stephen have pointed out on their excellent podcast, Butler so often just looks run down by the fourth. It makes sense. The Bulls are asking him to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter player (even if it’s their point guard) every night while also counting on him to score 25 points per game. That’s an enormous burden for anyone to handle and it’s clearly taking a toll on Butler’s production late in games.

On the season, Butler is posting a sterling true shooting percentage of 59.1. In the fourth, that drops down to 52.9. Here’s how Butler’s efficiency corresponds to the team’s through the course of the game:

Quarter Bulls net rating Butler net rating Butler field goal percentage
1 5.3 8.5 49.2
2 0.7 3.2 43.3
3 9 9.9 48.7
4 -10.5 -8.8 37.5

Don’t confuse this as the Bulls having a Jimmy Butler problem. He’s struggling because of a lack of support. He’s been asked to do everything only because his supporting cast is so flawed.

It isn’t just an issue at the end of games. It’s also something to monitor during the season. The month-by-month splits show Butler is slowing down as the season wears on, too:

The easy fix is to get Butler more rest in the middle of games. He’s currently No. 8 in the league in minutes per game at 36.2 and that number would be a lot higher if the Bulls didn’t have a handful of blowout wins.

The question then becomes: if the Bulls are resting Butler more early, will they even be close enough late for him to save the day?

It all goes back to a poorly constructed roster with no shooting and no wing depth. Who thought the Bulls would be missing Justin Holiday right now? To the Bulls’ credit, they did take two wings in the last draft, but Denzel Valentine and Paul Zipser either haven’t been given an opportunity yet or haven’t produced.

It’s just a shame because Butler is having a phenomenal season. You can make an easy argument that he’s the second best player in the East and one of the 10 best players in the league. He should be willing the Bulls to victory in the fourth, not serving as the epitome of their struggles.

Whether it's juggling the rotation or making an in-season trade, the Bulls need to figure out how to alleviate the pressure on Butler. This isn't meant as a complaint against his minutes; almost all star players have to play 35+ minutes a night. Butler's workload on both ends just isn't sustainable. The Bulls' .500 record won't be either unless they do something about it.

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Truly the lowlight of the season.

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I just ... can't believe he even went for it.

When they put your tweets on TV and you realize Gar Forman isn't inviting you to his holiday party

In case anyone wants to see how extremely tall, dark and handsome I am in person, here's my full appearance talking Bulls on CLTV last night.

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