Butler primed for breakthrough season

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
4:04
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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Jimmy ButlerDavid Banks/Getty ImagesJimmy Butler looks forward to getting some wide-open looks playing alongside Derrick Rose.
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Two years ago, Jimmy Butler was a rookie going through a Tom Thibodeau redshirt year.

After a year of spotty minutes and long practices, Butler saw the rewards for his hard work. He became a rotation player in his second season and eventually an iron man starter.

Now heading into his third season, Butler is slated to be the starting shooting guard and very likely either the low-price (for now) answer to the Bulls’ backcourt search or the replacement for Luol Deng if he leaves for free agency next season.

For now, Butler has to learn to play alongside his friend Derrick Rose, which means playing fast. What does Butler think the biggest adjustment will be playing next to the former MVP?

“Getting used to being so wide open because he draws so many double-teams and everybody has to help off him,” Butler said.

That’s not a bad problem to have. This year, call him “Jimmy More Buckets.”

Butler, the 30th pick of the 2011 NBA draft, played all 82 games last year, averaging 8.6 points and four rebounds a game in 26 minutes.

But the real numbers to look at are what he did as a starter late in the season. That’s when Bulls fans started calling the 6-foot-7 swingman out of Marquette, “Jimmy Buckets.”

In 20 games a starter -- 10 as a shooting guard and 10 as a small forward -- Butler averaged 14.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He guarded superior players and also averaged 43.3 minutes in those games, becoming a true clone of Deng, who never seems to leave the court under Thibodeau.

“I don’t want to come out of the game,” Butler said of last season. “Whenever you get it, then you (realize you’ve) asked for too much, more than your mouth can bite off. But it was fun. I learned so much. My confidence definitely got higher.”

Butler averaged 40.8 minutes in the playoffs and 13.3 points, including 40.5 percent on 3-pointers. Needless to say, he was tired by the end of the season. The Bulls needed a scoring guard to go along with Rose three seasons ago against the Heat in the playoffs. The Rip Hamilton experiment failed.

While injuries helped pave the way for him to start, Butler earned his minutes by soaking in Thibodeau's system. He's another bullet point in Thibodeau's C.V. under "Improved Players."

For the Bulls to challenge Miami and Indiana, Butler has to be able to be a consistent offensive threat.

“It’s great to be a part of those core guys,” Butler said. “I feel like we can be something special with the group of guys that we have. There’s so much more we can do.”

To get ready for the season, Butler went to Los Angeles to train with Rose for a week.

“Just seeing the way that he works, the player that he’s become, he wasn’t always that player,” Butler said. “He’s always been really talented, but the work ethic he puts into everything, there’s no doubt. The success, it shows. I wanted to go out there and get in a few runs with him.”

If things go Butler’s way, he’ll have many more runs with Rose.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jimmy Butler
PTS AST STL MIN
20.2 3.3 1.7 38.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsP. Gasol 12.1
AssistsD. Rose 5.0
StealsJ. Butler 1.7
BlocksP. Gasol 2.1