Bulls Suddenly Playing Well in Fourth Quarters because of Jimmy Butler

Jimmy B. Butler.....the 'B' stands for Buckets.

An accurate description of what Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler has done in the clutch this season, but still an embarrassing botch job of Butler's real nickname, Jimmy G. Buckets the 'G' Stands for Gets, by ESPN analyst Doug Collins during the Bulls nationally televised game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday night.

The Bulls are 5-3 in January, and almost every win has featured Jimmy Butler late game heroics. According to, he has averaged 11.0 points on 59.3 percent from the field in fourth quarters this month. Only Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas has averaged more points (12.0 points per game) in the fourth quarter than Butler in January.

Furthermore, Butler has an absurdly high 42.3 net rating which is the ninth highest mark in the NBA among players that averaged at least five minutes of playing time in fourth quarters in January. His player impact estimate of 41.0 in fourth quarters since Jan. 1 (pie score is a stat used by to measure a player's overall statistical contributions against the total statistics in the game they play) is the highest in the NBA among players that averaged at least five minutes of playing time in the the fourth quarter of January games.

Butler's offensive rating in fourth quarters this month is 129.5 and his defensive rating is 87.3. In situations that labels as clutch (last five minutes of a game with the score within five points), his pie score for the entire season is the best in the NBA.

Despite missing two games due to illness and having that same illness relegate him to an ineffective role in an aborted flu game attempt against the Thunder last week, Butler's recent play has lifted the Chicago Bulls from one of the worst fourth quarter teams in the NBA, to one of the best.

The Bulls 15.9 net rating in fourth quarters in January is the fourth-best mark in the NBA during this time span. In the five January games that a healthy Jimmy Butler has played, the Bulls have outscored opponents by an average margin of +6 in fourth quarters. This number may seem pedestrian at first glance, but given the way opponents had been beating down the Bulls in fourth quarters earlier this season, the +6 point differential this month is a significant improvement.

Jimmy Butler has been on the Chicago Bulls roster for the entire season and didn't miss any games prior to January. Yet, before January the Chicago Bulls had a -10.6 net rating in the fourth quarter which was the third-worst mark in the league.

Why have the Chicago Bulls and Jimmy Butler just now begun figuring it out in the fourth quarter?

Better Lineups

Several variations of the point Jimmy + multiple shooter template have worked like a charm for the Bulls in January. It really isn't a groundbreaking concept that when you give Jimmy Butler space to operate he can put up ridiculous numbers.

According to lineup tracking, the three-man lineup of Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott have posted a +12 plus-minus in fourth quarters this month. This lineup has appeared in the fourth quarter of three games since Jan. 1, and has averaged 6.8 minutes per appearance (this is a good sample size considering they have all played together at once in just four out of eight games this month).

The three lineups ahead of this one in terms of plus-minus all feature a combination of Butler and at least one shooter.

Put Jimmy Butler in Pick and Rolls

Using the above recipe (point Jimmy surrounded by shooters), the Bulls have put Butler in pick and roll situations and it has killed teams in fourth quarters this month. In a Jan. 4 win against Cleveland, it was a 1-2 pick and roll with Michael Carter-Williams that switched Jimmy Butler onto the 5-foot-9 Kay Felder that helped the Bulls win that game. In a come-from-behind victory against Toronto, a 1-3 pick and roll in the fourth quarter and overtime featuring Butler and Doug McDermott killed the Raptors.

Last night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Bulls tried to run a 1-2 pick and roll at the end of the game with Carter-Williams and Butler to get Butler switched onto Mike Conley. The intent of the strategy didn't work out, because Tony Allen ferociously fought through almost every screen to stick with Butler. However, Butler still finished the quarter 3-for-5 from the field even while getting hounded by one of the best defenders in the game (Tony Allen).

The following highlight video shows 1). a play where Butler had to improvise off a pick and roll that didn't go according to plan and 2). how deadly Butler is when a pick and roll leads to him getting the favorable end of a mismatch.

In the first play on this highlight compilation video, the Bulls run a 1-2 pick and roll with Carter-Williams screening for Butler. Carter-Williams sets an extremely soft, non-consequential screen, and Tony Allen easily fights through it to stick with Butler. However, Butler still makes the shot.

In the second play, Carter-Williams does a much better job of setting a harder screen to eliminate Tony Allen from the play. Butler gets going downhill and easily crosses over Conley (the matchup the Bulls intended to exploit by setting the pick and roll in the first place) before hitting a dagger shot.

The two plays highlight the variety of ways that Butler can hurt teams in pick and roll situations.

The reason why pick and rolls involving Jimmy Butler work so well is relatively simple. The Bulls want to switch him onto poor/small defenders to create mismatches that work in his favor. If the defense collapses on him or a double team comes, he can kick it out to shooters (Mirotic or McDermott). In several fourth quarters this month, we saw great off the ball movement from McDermott and Wade on Butler pick and rolls that led to easy layups from the former two players. Off the ball movement when the defense is so focused on stopping Butler further accentuates this advantage. As we saw in the above highlight reel, even when a pick and roll doesn't manufacture the intended effect, Butler can improvise and hit shots over really tough perimeter defenders.

Hoiberg has the guts to bench veterans late in games

Hoiberg hasn't worried about hurting the feelings of his veteran players, and it has helped the Bulls win tight games in the fourth quarter.

Since Jan. 1, Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez, and Rajon Rondo respectively have played the fewest fourth quarter minutes on the team. Hoiberg has refused to compromise the point Jimmy + shooters template to cater to the egos of his veteran players.

In regards to Rondo, Hoiberg's refusal to play him in the fourth quarter has been a particularly impressive display of defiance because the decision seems to come in direct opposition to the wishes of the Bulls front office who were adamant about how much Rondo would help this team when they signed him this summer.


The Bulls have found a recipe that works in the fourth quarter. Credit to Hoiberg for his fourth-quarter lineup construction and play calling (for the most part) lately, and his unwillingness to compromise what works by catering to the egos of his veteran players.

Progress is progress and we are seeing a tiny glimpse of some here.

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