Where would the Bulls be without Jimmy Butler?
That right there is the slogan for the 2016-2017 Chicago Bulls.
It’s quite hard to put into perspective how bad this team would be without Butler’s heroics. Chances are, and to no exaggeration, that this team would be one of the bottom five in the league. The fact that this assembly of talent, and coaching is on the verge of possibly a top six seed in the playoffs (yes I know it’s the East), is amazing in and of itself.
But more than the entirety of this season, it’s been the past nine games without Dwyane Wade, that Butler has put this Bulls team on his back and carried them to what looks to be a playoff berth.
On March 16th, it was announced that Wade would miss the remainder of the season with a fracture in his elbow, with a small possibility to return in the postseason. At that moment, the Bulls were sitting 32-36 having just lost to the Memphis Grizzlies. With the news of Wade, it seemed as if the Bulls playoff aspirations had just gone out the window, along with Wade’s future with the team.
Over the next 17 days, Butler and the rest of the Bulls to their credit refused to fold on the season. In the nine games since Wade’s injury, the Bulls are 6-3, 38-39 overall sitting as the seventh seed with five games left against teams that are lottery bound. During said stretch, Butler’s play has been nothing short of sensational, averaging 28.6 PPG, on 54.3% shooting from the field, 60% from three, along with 8.1 APG and 6 RPG.
Though he’s had some help along the way, from Nikola Mirotic’s annual March spring, the “resurgence” of Rajon Rondo, and building confidence of Denzel Valentine. Their success can be due to Butler’s stellar play as well; with the added attention of defenses minus Wade, Butler’s been forced to adjust as a result creating more opportunities for his teammates.
Prior to Wade’s injury, Butler’s assist percentage was 24.4%. In the nine games since, his assist percentage has risen almost 10% to 33.3%, and that’s with only a 0.2% change in his usage rate (26.5% - 26.7%). And as a team, the Bulls assist percentage is at 65%, third only behind the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics.
Let’s take a look back during the Bulls 106-104 win against Atlanta last Saturday, when Butler accumulated eight assists in a must-win situation.
With Atlanta’s full attention on stopping Butler, the Bulls time and time again went with the 2-4 pick-and-roll with Mirotic, as seen above (and here’s another), making the Hawks pay in the end.
Once more, as Butler drives off of the PnR, all three Hawks defenders collapse leaving him with two options: Paul Zipser in the corner, or Robin Lopez for the drop-off in the lane. As we see, Butler decides with latter, but this is just another prime example of him adjusting and reading the defense with the added attention.
And finally, with Butler driving towards the basket off of a PnR, it forces the Hawks defense to scramble leaving him with two options once again. In the strong-side corner he has Mirotic, or the streaking Valentine in the weak-side corner. Even though Butler chooses the latter, either option would’ve yielded potential success.
This is one of the main differences Butler is having with Wade out of the lineup. Between Mirotic, Portis, Valentine, Zipser and - hell, to be honest - Rondo, there are at least two shooters on the floor with Butler. Seeing as that group is knocking down shots at a reasonable clip, when defense are collapsing on Butler, he’s finding the open man, who’s been able to convert...for the most part.
17 days ago the Bulls were on the verge of being lottery-bound for the second consecutive season. However, the Bulls “franchise player” has managed to bring his level of play even higher, pushing this collection of mediocre talent to a playoff appearance.
He’s not in the MVP race, but I’ll be damned if Jimmy Butler doesn’t at least warrant a couple of votes along the way.