When an injured Luol Deng exited Friday’s match-up at Boston, it was clear that his void would have to be filled. Jimmy Butler did just that in the Chicago Bulls’ latest back-to-back series.
In the Bulls’ overtime victory over the Boston Celtics, Butler had 13 points (4-5 FG, 1-2 3PT, 4-4 FT) and 4 rebounds in about 26 minutes of play. During the loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, he played nearly 48 minutes posting 18 points (5-13 FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in his first career start. Not only did he put up these impressive numbers, but he made key plays in both overtime periods of the back-to-back series, including some buckets and steals. Butler also did a nice job defending Memphis’ Rudy Gay.
Much of Butler’s performance was due to the advice and confidence given to him by his mentor, Deng.
“Before [the game], [Luol] was like, ‘Go out there and play, don’t worry about anything,” Butler said. “He was just like, ‘Play the game. Play hard. Do what you’ve been doing to get you to this point.”
Butler is quite lucky to have a mentor like Deng. Deng has shown an ability to be a versatile, hard-working player. But with extended minutes, Butler too has shown that he can be the player Deng is. In fact, it is what caused Butler’s performance in Boston.
“To tell you the truth, in my head I was just like, ‘Do what Lu does. Do what Lu does,” Butler said.
Granted, two good performances are not much, but a lot of potential was shown through those. Eighteen minutes is how much playing time Butler is averaging over the course of this current season. Deng, on the other hand, is averaging nearly 40 minutes per game. With a consistent, determined player like Deng, it is clear why Coach Tom Thibodeau would rely on him so much. Yet, the availability of Butler is still present, so there is absolutely no reason why Deng should be playing excessively. After Butler’s work against Boston and Memphis, it should not even be a question as to whether or not Butler should receive more minutes. Not only can he handle more minutes, but he can be productive with the extra playing time.
Giving Butler more minutes should be considered even more now since Deng is sidelined with a sore hamstring. He is listed as day-to-day, so his return could really come at any time. It could come tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers, on Wednesday versus the Detroit Pistons, or even later on. But whenever Deng is suited for a return, it would be the perfect opportunity to shorten Deng’s minutes and give them to Butler. Fewer minutes for Deng would mean a lesser chance of risking another injury or even re-injuring the hamstring, and it would also give Butler more time to develop his game. It is a win-win situation.
In just his second year in the NBA, Jimmy Butler has proven that he can handle this style of basketball. And with a chance to gain more playing time, Butler has also shown that he deserves more attention.