Bulls’ Butler More Than Mere Hired Help

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CHICAGO — It’s not clear if any one factor on Jimmy Butler‘s resume loomed larger than the others when the Chicago Bulls used the last draft pick of the first round in the 2011 Draft on the 6-foot-7 forward from Marquette.

But it couldn’t have hurt that Butler, a native of Houston, had grown up and played high school ball in a town on that city’s outskirts named Tomball.

“Tomball” as in the way Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau likes it. One man goes down, another steps in. Starter or reserve, from short minutes to long and back again, nothing changes — more than enough to win.

What Butler has been doing for the Bulls for the past week and a half – more than plugging a hole in the starting lineup while Luol Deng was out with a strained hamstring, then scoring a career-high 19 points off the bench in Chicago’s victory over Charlotte at United Center – has been Tomball, indeed.

“I think it held the most when Lu [Deng] came up to me and said, ‘You can do this. … Step in and keep playing the way you’ve been playing,” Butler said after resetting or tying his NBA scoring high for the third time in six games. “When you hear that from an All-Star — from him, from Derrick [Rose], from Jo [Noah] — man, that’s real.”

That, even more than the positive feedback Butler has gotten on the court in this stretch, has boosted his confidence beyond what he brought as a little-used rookie and, earlier this season, spot reserve.

“That’s what I needed to hear,” Butler said. “They was all, ‘Lu’s hamstring is hurt. You’ve got to come in and …’ Not really saying, ‘Be Lu.’ They were just saying, ‘Be you. Be that energy guy that guards, and locks down and he hustles.’ That’s what I brought to the table as a starter, that’s what I bring off the bench. That’s who I am.”

Last season, with Ronnie Brewer still around, Butler logged a total of 359 minutes in 42 games, averaging 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds. In Chicago’s first 38 games, Butler averaged 17.2 minutes, 5.4 points and 2.6 boards.

But as a starter, he found himself thrust into a Deng-like 45.2 minutes per game. He responded with 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds. He pestered Kobe Bryant masterfully last week, then notched his first double-double (16 points, 12 rebounds) Friday vs. Golden State.

Butler’s shot can sometimes be flat enough to slip through a transom, but he was more efficient against the Bobcats, getting his 19 points and six rebounds on 7-for-10 shooting in 31:14. In the past six games, he has played nearly 246 minutes.

Thibodeau said Butler got big minutes off the bench Monday – he played more than starters Richard Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer or Deng – because of Charlotte’s smallish matchups. But it’s clear that Thibodeau likes his effort, his demeanor, his ability to rev high as soon as he hits the court and a sheer athletic ability that’s rare on Chicago’s roster.

If there’s a minutes adjustment required when Rose eventually returns – with Hinrich shifting to the bench, Marco Belinelli’s recent rise put at risk or even Deng given a few more breathers – odds are good Thibodeau will see it as a puzzle rather than a problem and invent ways to get Butler on the floor.

Soft-spoken but fun-loving in the Bulls’ locker room, Butler said his newfound notoriety hasn’t shown up much away from the gym. No flood of new Twitter followers, no rush of shout-outs on the town.

“Nah,” he said. “Everybody treats me the same. I don’t want anything to change. I still want to be the small-town kid from Tomball that floats under the radar. [Because] if you sleep on anybody on this team, we can come back and get you.”

Butler said he didn’t draw any motivation from being the last pick in the first round two years ago. Nor, he said, did he think about the contractual advantage he might have had if he’d slipped one measly spot lower. As a second-rounder, Butler might have been eligible for one of those poison-pill contract offer sheets that made former Bulls center Omer Asik and former Knicks guard Jeremy Lin so wealthy as restricted free agents last summer.

“It was a blessing to be drafted, to have a chance to play in this league,” Butler said. “Picked 1, picked 30 — I feel like this is what you dreamed of when you were little. It was a blessing that I ended up here, with this team, because I feel this team fits me the best.”

Lately, there’s no mystery about his impact on the Bulls, no past tense about it. In classic whodunit fashion, this Butler is doing it.

22 Comments

  1. BullySixChicago says:

    Those who are now seeing Butler, play at this level are probably just noticing him. We who have seen his play at Marquette knew he would if given the minutes would play well. His summer league play should’ve given people at an insight

  2. stubs says:

    You want energy? I present Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler. You want defense? I again present Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler. You want athleticism? Jo, Derrick and, who else, Jimmy Butler. This Pro is going places this season. I am so glad he finally got a chance to showcase his abilities. I doubt Jimmy will crack the starting lineup when everyone is healthy, if that is even possible for this team, but don’t think he will be averaging a measly 8-12 minutes per game either. That’s just fine with me. Jimmy can fill in any empty space the team may have except Noah. No one can fill his shoes. I usually am skeptical about up and coming players, but I think this guy is the real deal. Thanks for the article.

  3. Bulls2012 says:

    I was the biggest Butler fan all last season and I told EVERYONE he was a player will potential to put up about 18 and 10 a game…Our FUTURE IS LOOKING BRIGHT..Drose Noah Butler Gibson Teague.

  4. Isaaac says:

    i like this kid, he’s definitely got a future in the nba, get him starting in the 2 guard and you have yourelf one hell of a starting 5 once D. Rose returns.

  5. BullsFanInCali says:

    I Knew even last year that Jimmy Buckets had alot of potential, they just couldnt get him the minutes. Now the sky’s the limit for this kid. He has shown he can play top notch D against the elite players in the league, he did it against melo, Dwade and against the black mamba! I really hope he continues to get the playing time he deserves and I agree trade rip and start jimmy buckets! Bulls nation!!!

  6. Biggie 45th says:

    Somehow or someway the Bulls need to trade Rip Hamilton. Jimmy Butler is the answer at the 2. His defense and his athletic ability, him Deng, and Noah on the court at the same time. That defense gets better. And when Rose comes back. I Think we have all the ingredients for a championship. Josh Howard, Butler’s better than Howard.

    • MV says:

      Trade Rip? Are there any takers? His contract expires at the end of this season, and I don’t see him being resigned (by the Bulls).

  7. Way to go Jimmy! Great job steppin up when Lu was hurt. Now just keep up holding down the fort until #TheReturn! Go Bulls!

  8. Ragu says:

    What do you guys think about switching him to the two guard. I think this kid can play and Hamilton should be coming off the bench.

  9. samboyle says:

    Funny thing about it i knew he was a definite upgrade over Brewer, but he ok offensively especially last night man he made some nice drives to the basket hes definitely our second best athlete behind Rose.

  10. Guy says:

    Josh Howard? Butler is gonna be the next Scottie Pippen!

  11. Jumppong says:

    Jimmy Butller might be the next josh howard.

    • NBAChicago says:

      Are you saying he will become an allstar like josh howard? or eventually drift away in few short years like josh howard? Either way neither will happen because His work ethic is 100x more than josh howard’s. Also way more athletic than josh howard too. You can tell being around rose and thibs and the whole bulls nation has it has rub off on butler the right way and is slowly developing before our eyes. Look at demarcous cusions, tyreke evans, and those type of players, who can develope properly because the culture and the people they are around is like a circus.

  12. Edy says:

    Great article! Great Jimmy. A lot of respect for him from Brazil! He and the Bulls are doing a great job without DROSE. Cheers!

  13. BULLS FAN says:

    JIMMY JIMMY JIMMY I knew he had the talents now we see what he can do when he really displays it

  14. Filipino Idiot says:

    Nice to see articles like these where a player deep into the draft performs well and gets some deserved attention.

  15. Paul says:

    We’re the ones over here at Chicago who should be thanking the guy! His hard work easily translates come game time with good offense & defense and solid fundamental gameplay. Thanks Jimmy Butler for the hustle!

  16. DaBulls933 says:

    Really impressed with Jimmy he is a great player and I hope to see him as an All Star in the future but I hope to see him have a permanent spot at the starting lineup maybe at two guard since he can handle the ball pretty well but if the Bulls lose Luol Deng (I hope it doesn’t happen) the SF position is in safe hands. Play long and Prosper Jimmy Buckets!

  17. sam says:

    Humble. Much respect for a true pro baller in a world of glitz and glamor.

  18. yourboy says:

    He will be a starter one day. Bulls nation!

  19. Batboy4e says:

    Hell Yeah!!! :D

  20. Frantzky says:

    Better see that rating boost on 2k! :)