HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In Chicago, they’re getting mighty used to seeing No. 21 on the floor. That’s because Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau rarely takes second-year swingman Jimmy Butler out anymore.
The youngster from Marquette is racking up the minutes and stands to be an integral part of any postseason success the Bulls (42-34, fifth in the East) might have — with or without Derrick Rose.
“I love his demeanor,” Thibodeau said. “I love the fact that you don’t have to wind him up. He has great energy every day.”
It’s been crucial on a club that’s dealt with its share of injury woes from Rose missing the entire season to Rip Hamilton possibly being done for the season to Joakim Noah‘s and Marco Belinelli‘s eight-game absence that ended with both players back in the lineup Sunday at Detroit.
Belinelli’s abdominal injury opened a starting spot for the 6-foot-7 Butler and he remained there in Sunday’s disappointing 92-90 loss to the Pistons. Even with Belinelli back and playing 20 minutes, Butler, in just his 14th start of the season and eighth in a row, went for 45 minutes. Some of that heavy load was caused by a hip injury to Luol Deng that sidelined the NBA’s minutes leader (39.2 mpg) for Sunday’s game and likely more.
Still, 40-plus minutes are becoming routine for Butler, an excellent rebounder and solid defender who is aggressively building his offensive game. In seven of his last eight games, he’s logged 42-45 minutes. In the one game he didn’t, he logged 39 minutes. During that stretch, he’s practically doubled his season average of 24.8 mpg, a number that’s obviously risen of late.
There have been bumps in the road, but Thibodeau has praised Butler’s progress from a rough rookie season that didn’t include a full training camp or many practice days due to the lockout and truncated schedule. He played in 42 games last season, averaging 2.6 ppg. He attempted just 11 3-pointers all season, making two.
Now he’s putting up 8.1 ppg while shooting 46.0 percent from the floor. He’s lifted his 3-point shooting to 33.7 percent. In the last eight games as a starter, he’s produced 14.0 ppg, has gone 10-for-23 from beyond the arc (43.5 percent) and 37-for-85 overall (43.5 percent). He produced similar numbers earlier in the season when he replaced an injured Deng in the starting lineup for four games.
“As long as he continues to work, and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t, he’s going to continue to get better and better,” Thibodeau said. “He showed a great commitment last summer and just the way he works every day. I think those types of guys always get better.” (more…)