Watching the Chicago Bulls in the past two years have been mostly torturous. Make that the last three years when you considering how Thibs’s tenure ended with his status hanging over the season like a storm cloud.
Yet if there had to be one reason for fans to tune in, it’s Jimmy Butler. He has been the heart and soul of this team during the past couple of seasons and has carried them to numerous victories in the process.
In fact, Butler has been one of the most instrumental players of any player in the NBA this past season. The Bulls did have a 41-41 record this season, and that’s mediocre by definition but not outright bad. Without Butler’s almost 18(!) win contribution, they would have easily been one of the worst teams in the league.
Jimmy Butler is REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY good. pic.twitter.com/rizvTDUWs6— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) June 19, 2017
He’s been on a tear and is putting up some numbers in an efficiency we don’t see from many players in the league ever. Even with a player with a high usage like Butler at 26.5, Butler seldom turned the ball over, with a turnover percentage of 9.3. That means for every 100 possessions Butler had the ball, he only turned it over about 9 times. It’s very impressive for a guy who literally has the ball in his hands all the time, a necessity for the offense to be effective. By putting up those numbers, according to Micah Adams of ESPN Stats and Info, it’s something that puts Butler in very historic company.
The free throw attempt rate is also astonishing to look at. Butler doesn’t shy away from contact and he gets to the line a lot. He was 4th in the entire league this past year averaging just under 9 free throw attempts per game. With a free throw percentage of 86%, that is basically 7 or 8 easy points for him right there. Butler has realized the best way for him to score is just straight up isolation bully ball and he’s perfected it.
Butler has become one of the best two-way players in the NBA, and the crazy thing is nobody really saw this type of development from him when he first entered the league.
When Chicago drafted Butler 30th in the 2011 NBA Draft, there wasn’t a lot of people saying Butler could be a real impact player. Mainly when guys are taken after the lottery, the ceiling for them isn’t to be a superstar, it’s usually a solid bench/role player.
The first two years didn’t give any foresight that Butler would be the player he was today, though he showed signs of being an elite defender and worked his way into the rotation by being a defensive stopper. Butler was always one those “Thibs guys”, a guy who played defense first and offense second. He played as many minutes as Thibs wanted him to and always played his hardest.
The only problem then was his offense, where he couldn’t shoot to save his life the first couple of seasons. Then something clicked in the 2014 season and his shot started improving. With his offensive game starting to show signs of life along with his great defense, Butler quickly became an integral part of the Bulls. It was a huge leap offensively and you can see it in the chart below which shows Butler’s TPA (Total Points Added) over his entire career. Thanks to the guys at NBA Math for the chart and you can view how they came up with this formula here.
You can see in the past couple of seasons, Butler’s offense has grown in massive leaps and bounds. He’s become more comfortable with the ball in his hands and has become a much better player isolation wise. Whether it’s off a PNR switch or in the post, if Butler has an advantage 1 on 1 against his defender, he’s probably going to score. He’s turned into a machine and with his jumper looking more and more reliable.
For the "Jimmy Butler is a non-shooter" crowd: He’s shooting 35.8% in his last 730 (non-heave) attempts from behind the arc. (@bball_ref)— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) June 21, 2017
Despite this performance, trade rumors have been swirling around Butler because he’s become this good while the roster around him has been that bad. Deadspin’s Patrick Redford put it best in a recent column about Butler’s trade value:
A player of Butler’s caliber should not be available, but because the Bulls are run by incompetent doofuses and the team’s chemistry is acidic enough to burn through the hull of an ocean liner, he’s somewhat on the market.
Butler’s always been a two-way talent, but his efficiency blossomed across the board. He took on a larger share of possessions than he ever has before and managed to turn the ball over at the lowest rate of his career, average more assists than ever before, and snag rebounds at a career-high clip. His shooting took a dip, but if you watched him operate, you saw a confident superstar who could score from most spots on the floor, capable of playing with his back to the basket or in the pick-and-roll.
Arguably Chicago’s best player since Michael Jordan, Jimmy Butler’s value as a two-way player is at the top of the league. He’s a joy to watch, and is the only reason why the Bulls remain afloat right now. Unlike when stars are usually traded, he wants to be here.
Instead of a rebuild, the Chicago Bulls should instead be building around Jimmy Butler, as there’s no two ways about it: he’s that good.