While Bulls fans last year were trying their best not to strangle Thibbs for A) letting Luol Deng run himself to the ground and B) keeping Jimmy Butler glued to the bench, amidst the #FreeJimmyButler hashtags spurring themselves over Twitter (or specifically my timeline, whichever) the Marquette product was in the gym, honing his skills.
This season, thanks in part to a 14 day bench-shred this summer and Butler’s workhorse attitude, he’s been rewarded with consistent playing time. Butler is a Thibbs kind of guy – defense first, everything else second – and his ability to not just slow, but stop his opponents has paid dividends to the Bulls early success.
Not only is his defense on par, but in the past few games his confidence has helped his offensive game prosper. If there’s one thing that all Bulls fans know that Jimmy can do, it’s draw fouls. He hasn’t wavered in that regard, shooting 100% from the line albeit the small sample size. The most important change that fans have witnessed in the new season has been the fact that the tentative side of Butler’s game has all but disappeared. When he see’s a lane, he takes it. When there’s an open jumper available, you can bet on him shooting it.
Possibly the greatest cause for this change has been the fact that in last Tuesday’s win against the Orlando Magic, he played important crunch time minutes, a recognition from Tom Thibodeau that what he brings to the Bulls is invaluable. Just last night, in a win against the Suns, Butler looked like the ghost of Ronnie Brewer, racking up two straight steals and dunks in under five minutes.
What could be the greatest asset Butler brings to the Bulls is that if Thibbs faith in him continues to rise, the days of Luol Deng playing 43 minutes just to ensure a win (or relax the head coach) could be over. While that may be a long ways away, the second-year forward is taking strides that many fans didn’t think were possible.