A few years back, the Bulls were in need of a starting two-guard. A guy they could rely on to contribute 15-20 points a game. And the general consensus always seemed to be if the Bulls were able to land somebody to properly fill that role, then they would have all the pieces they need to seriously contend for a championship. But that player always seemed to find their way on to another team, continuing to leave the Bulls one piece away.
Then in 2011, Jimmy Butler gets drafted. As a rookie, he hardly played – just over eight minutes a game and averaging 2.6 points. The following year, which saw Derrick Rose miss the entire season, Butler played more minutes per game (26) and improved his scoring average to 8.6, while also receiving key defensive assignments. Last season, with Rose out again (72 games), we saw Jimmy Butler become a key contributor for the Bulls, with his minutes leaping to over 38 a game, and points to 13.1. This season -- over 39 minutes a game to go along with 21.6 points and an Eastern Conference player of the month honor for November.
Jimmy Butler hasn’t become an All-Star just yet, but he’s become one of, if not the most important player on the Bulls roster. No, he doesn’t have an MVP like Rose, a defensive player of the year award like Joakim Noah, or two championship rings like Pau Gasol. Each of those players plays a huge role in the level of success the Bulls will have this season, none more than Rose.
But let’s be honest, the Bulls and us fans cannot rely on Derrick Rose anymore. When every game becomes a question mark of whether or not he can play, you simply have to move on with the guys you can trust night in and night out. And right now, the most reliable player is Butler. Not only is he the team’s leading scorer, but he is also our top defender.
What gets lost in Noah winning the DPOY award last season is Butler making the NBA All-Defensive 2nd Team. There aren’t many guys in the league who get handed the defensive assignments he does, having to guard every team’s best player, and then turn around on the offensive end and consistently produce and put up numbers. But he has done that this year.
To say the fourth year guard’s game has exploded this season would be an understatement. There’s a level of confidence he is playing with that was not there a year ago. His play has become smarter and his athleticism has improved by leaps and bounds. His field goal percentage has gone up to 49%. He’s slashing to the basket and finding ways to get to the free throw line, attempting 8.5 shots from the line a game.
What Butler is bringing to the table for the Bulls this season is something that most people did not expect, and he would have to be the front runner for most improved player of the year. And to top it off, Bulls fans love him. He’s not flashy and he’s not cocky. He’s focused and prepared for every game, and it shows. Having been given the opportunity to play more over the last couple seasons due to the absence of Rose and the trade of Luol Deng, Butler has taken on more responsibility, and in the process, learned to become one of the team’s leaders.
Right now, at this point of the season, he is the best player on the Bulls. With over six months left of basketball, fans should be excited to see how much better he can become as the year goes on. And if that’s the case, it might be safe to say that final piece the Bulls have been missing all these years is finally here.