Jimmy Butler Blossoming As Bulls’ Ultimate Utility Man
MILWAUKEE – Looking back, Jimmy Butler is grateful for being brought along slowly last season, learning under the tutelage of his Chicago Bulls veterans. He still leans on them to keep his mindset aggressive and point out intricacies, but now there’s ease and comfort with him. Now, Butler is getting results, seeing his confidence rise and carving out a steady role.
The Bulls always knew that they could rely on Butler defensively, where he repeatedly showed a fearless edge last season. Butler would match up against Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, and he never backed down. And now, he dashes to the basket welcoming contact – bravery he developed throughout Summer League last year – and the arc and range on his jump shot keeps improving.
Butler understands the importance of having a consistent jumper, an outside game to match his offensive rebounding activity. For him, it is all about repetition, putting up shot after shot in workouts.
“I put up a lot of shots, man,” Butler told RealGM. “I can’t even put a number on it, but shooting with the shot doctor [assistant coach] Ron Adams and getting constant repetitions, it’ll come around. And once you get confidence in it – I rush a lot of them – I just slow down and take my time and it’ll be all right.”
Gaining the trust of Tom Thibodeau has been a process for Butler, and last year he concentrated on showing the coach that he’s always ready. Butler got off to a slow start this season, admittedly passing up shots and playing tense. Nevertheless, his minutes gradually increased, and his confidence followed.
“It makes it easier when I have teammates on my side that let me know to stay aggressive, let me know when I’m doing well and when I’m not doing as well,” Butler said. “It’s easier to play with three All-Stars in [Derrick] Rose and Luol [Deng] and Joakim [Noah], and other All-Stars that should be there in [Carlos] Boozer.”
Thibodeau has looked past Butler’s erratic play at times and hasn’t been afraid to give the 23-year-old heavy playing time – especially in recent weeks when Deng has dealt with a hamstring injury. Over the past 10 games, Butler is averaging 14.9 points on 50.5 percent shooting and 7.5 rebounds in 39.5 minutes per night. The Bulls have gone 7-3 in that span, including 4-2 in Butler’s six starts.
“He plays everybody and it doesn’t matter whether he starts or comes off the bench, he’s a big part of this team,” Thibodeau said. “He can guard, he can score, play multiple positions, make hustle plays. He’s doing a lot for us.”
Beyond his teammates and coaches, Butler has also gotten praise around the NBA. Steve Kerr announced a Bulls game recently and said Butler has the potential to be a knockdown shooter, citing his form and the fact he makes 86 percent from the free throw line.
In Kerr’s mind, those traits will allow Butler to grow as a shooter, but they both know that discipline is needed in focusing to become a threat that teams know they have to pay attention to on the perimeter.
“I don’t like missing shots and I’ll do whatever it takes to get to that point,” Butler said. “[Kerr] is a big-time shooter so I guess he would know. It will come along, I got a long way to go definitely, but I’ll keep working on it.”
As his game rapidly trends upward, Butler hasn’t had time to look ahead and ponder how he would play as a full-time starter. He embraces his reserve role behind Deng and Rip Hamilton and mostly, he simply has in mind the here and now, in mind the ways he can help his team and improve individually.
“I don’t think down the road, man. I think right now,” Butler said. “I think about enjoying these wins. I love these guys and this is where I want to spend my years, because it’s a great organization, a great team. If it’s coming off the bench, if it’s coming out as a starter, I want to be around these guys.”