LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, James Harden, Paul George and Anthony Davis are the usual suspects when you ask someone who’s in their Top 5 players in league at the particular moment. Well there’s a shooting guard in Chicago that’s playing fabulous lockdown defense, scoring points in bunches and showing tremendous alpha dog qualities challenging his coach and teammates alike…sound familiar?
Yeah it does to me too and that’s why Jimmy Butler is a Top 5 player in the association right now and that’s as unfathomable for me to type as it is for you to read.
He wasn’t supposed to be this good. There’s a reason he was selected 30th overall near the end of the first round out of Marquette. He was primarily a defensive stopper with a limited offensive game. He was the replacement for then linchpin lockdown wing stopper Luol Deng. He made his mark being a valuable bench player and slowly worked his way into the rotation of then Bulls taskmaster Tom Thibodeau. He went from 3 points a game his rookie year to 13 by his third.
Deng left via free agency and Butler was called upon to not only to continue locking up the opposing teams best wing players but now score the pill more with oft-injured derrick Rose in and out of the lineup. Butler responded making his first All-Star team and being named NBA Most Improved Player averaging 20 points, six rebounds and three assists while leading the Bulls to the playoffs.
Butler came into this season with a new contract in hand (5years 95 million) and has improved his game even more. His points and assists have increased as well as his shot attempts as the Bulls look to him more and more every night offensively. He has earned the nickname Jimmy Buckets for his propensity to…well get buckets. He has seven games where he has scored 30 or more points including two 40 point games and his historical 53 point outburst last week vs the Sixers.
That Sixer game in particular is what inspired this writing. Butler demanded the ball possession after possession and willed a lethargic Bulls team to a victory over a team they should have blown out. Performances by the team like those vs Philly has made Butler openly question his teammates but first year coach Fred Hoiberg. He said the team wasn’t being coached hard enough with Hoiberg in comparison to Thibodeau. He went on to say that roles needed to be defined and players needed to be held accountable. That was December 20th. Since then the Bulls have looked more the Bulls of old and Butler has been the clear catalyst. His no-nonsense demeanor has endeared himself to Bulls fans and while Derrick Rose is still the most famous Bull, there’s no question to those in the know as to who the Best overall Bull is.
The declaration of Butler being Top 5 is one that has built up over the course of this season. The numbers aren’t video game style like Steph Curry, the style isn’t punishing and bruising like LeBron, the scoring isn’t automatic like the machine that is James Harden but one thing that Butler can do like LeBron, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is play defense.
His calling card hasn’t diminished even though his offensive exploits have increased. He has fined tuned his scoring but still got the defensive tools tucked away. Night after night he is matched up with the other teams best point guard, shooting guard or small forward and has flourished. He’s made the all-defensive team two seasons in a row and could make a case for first team this season.
If you’re into analytics then this next paragraph is for you. I’m not a stats nerd by any stretch but my mother once told me that I should have been a lawyer for how tenaciously I debate topics so here’s more evidence to support my claim. Butler is either top 5 or 10 in the following categories this season: Offensive Win Shares, Defensive Win Shares, Win Shares, Free Throw Attempts, Value over Replacement Player, Minutes Played and Points. That’s a lot of progress for a guy who didn’t have plays called for him until his fourth year in the league.
The Bulls have had nothing but upheaval since D Rose collapsed back in 2012. The team and the franchise has been fighting their way out of quicksand ever since. The Rose era has quickly gave way to the Butler years. He has been the only consistent force on offense the last three years. The likelihood of them being a threat in the Eastern Conference depends solely on the shoulders of the player who was predicted to be little more than a bench player
The Top 5 argument is always purely subjective. Fans vote for their own guys, pundits vote go along with the general consensus and then there’s me who values not only offense but defense when grading who belongs in the Top 5. Its hard to imagine a legit two way shooting guard playing right now with the exploits of Butler not being strongly considered for a spot in the Top 5.