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NBA PM: Time to Stop Doubting Butler’s Greatness

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Jimmy Butler leading by example for Chicago

The probability of an NBA team finding its franchise player with the last pick of the first round in any draft is typically slim to none. However, the Chicago Bulls managed to strike gold when they selected All-Star shooting guard Jimmy Butler No. 30 overall back in 2011.

Butler appeared in only 42 games as a rookie, tallying just 359 minutes on the season, and most were hoping he would eventually develop into a niche role player on a team featuring former league MVP Derrick Rose.

But over the years, as Rose’s physical abilities were hampered due to recurring knee trouble and former
All-Star center Joakim Noah endured his own injury woes, Butler slowly began to rise to the forefront and today the former Marquette product is undoubtedly one of the top 20 players in the league.

Noah and Rose both departed this summer via free agency and are now donning New York Knicks uniforms. If it wasn’t already clear whose team the Bulls were, on and off the court, it became blatantly obvious this past summer. The Bulls are an entirely different team nowadays. In fact, the only player remaining on the roster from Butler’s rookie season during the 2011-12 campaign is veteran forward Taj Gibson.

Butler, 27, appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential. He added a Gold Medal during the 2016 Olympic Games and already has two All-Star selections, a Most Improved Player award and three All-Defensive Team nods.

The ascent experienced by Butler isn’t common for those selected where he was in the draft. However, Butler has increased his scoring each season since entering the league, with the current campaign being his best one yet.

2011-12: 2.6 points per game
2012-13: 8.6 points per game
2013-14: 13. 1 points per game
2014-15: 20.0 points per game
2015:16: 20.9 points per game
2016-17: 25.8 points per game

Butler is also shooting a career-best from three-point range (43 percent) and averaging career-highs in rebounding (6.6) and effective field goal percentage (53 percent).

To Butler, it’s all about hard work and putting in the necessary hours to be great.

“I think of it like this, I don’t see what else you have to do,” Butler told ESPN’s Nick Friedell. “I don’t. The job that we have is incredibly lenient. You practice for an hour and a half. What do you do with the rest of your day? Why don’t you come in here and work on your game? Shoot, watch some film, all you’re going to do sit at home and play video games on your phone anyway. But these guys are buying into that, which is great. When you fall in love with the process, you find out that your confidence only comes from your work anyway.”

The Bulls missed the playoffs last season for the first time in Butler’s career. But if this year’s playoffs were to begin today, the team would be the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago was seemingly headed toward a rebuilding campaign with the departures of Noah and Rose to New York this past summer. The team took another hit when former All-Star Pau Gasol opted to join the San Antonio Spurs. But the Bulls rebounded quickly by signing veteran guards Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo.

Wade, a future Hall of Famer, has been extremely complimentary of Butler since arriving in Chicago, which is a testament to the guard’s approach to his craft.

“The league is on notice. Everybody is on notice that Jimmy Butler is a player,” Wade recently told The Vertical. “What everyone is seeing this year, I think everyone has been a little surprised, but we all knew he could play. You’ve seen the potential. Obviously, he’s been an All-Star the last two years, he’s averaged over 20 [points] a game, but what he’s doing nightly now, on both ends of the floor, he’s a complete player. And it’s for real. It’s not one week of doing it. He’s been doing it all season, and I don’t see him slowing down, so…”

So far, the team has collectively thrived and most of that is driven by the fact the veteran guys have fully bought into the thought of Butler being able to do the heavy lifting.

“Coming here, I understood Jimmy is in his prime,” Wade said. “And I understood how important it is to play with a guy like that. My job is to allow him to grow and to be the player he might not have even [known] he could be. And be there to do my part. I can still play, but I don’t need to show I can lead this team like that. I lead in other ways, but we allow Jimmy to be the guy. When it’s my time to be the guy, I’ll be it, and when it’s my time to step back and allow him to be it, I know how to do that as well.”

The Bulls host the Los Angeles Lakers on November 30.

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About Lang Greene

Lang Greene

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last eight seasons

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