In a season marred by a multitude of injuries and bizarrely inconsistent performance, perhaps the brightest spot of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls was second-year forward Jimmy Butler blossoming from little-used rookie to defensive stopper and iron man over the course of the season.
If you followed me on Twitter for any significant portion of the NBA season, or if you’re familiar with my work at Bulls101.com, you are probably well aware that I have a special place set aside in my heart for JIMMAY, as I generally refer to him. I spent the first two months or so of the season advocating desperately for more playing time for him, something that finally came to fruition in January, when Luol Deng got hurt and had to miss several games.
In his first stint as a starter, Butler played a key role in an overtime win in Boston (technically this was before he took over as a starter, but still), vastly outplayed Rudy Gay in an overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, locked down Kobe Bryant in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Martin Luther King Day – that led to my literally writing him a sonnet — slapped up an 18-9-4 line in more than 46 minutes as the Bulls beat the Detroit Pistons and then put up 16 and 12 as the Bulls smacked down the Golden State Warriors.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Butler had established himself as an integral part of the Bulls rotation, even earning the starting two-guard spot. Then, when Deng went down before game six of the Bulls’ series with the Brooklyn Nets, Butler stepped into his place, playing all 48 minutes in 5 of the Bulls final 7 games and checking LeBron James for pretty much the entire series with the Miami Heat. His offensive game wasn’t too shabby either, highlighted by his 21-point, 14-rebound performance in game one against the Heat.
Jimmy took a major step forward in his shooting over the course of the year. Coming into the year, Butler detractors criticized his jumper as a major point of weakness, and they weren’t entirely wrong early in the year. But Butler shot well over 40 percent from three after the all-star break. Not only is that solid, which is what I personally was hoping for going into the year, it’s outstanding. He’s also elite in his ability to generate free throws — which is odd, given that he struggles with dribbling at times — and an incredible offensive rebounder, not just for his position, but in general.
His athleticism is borderline breathtaking on a team full of guys who get by with hops that would rival mine, that of a 6’2″ white guy from suburbia — Derrick Rose excepted, of course. He is the only player besides Rose since Tyrus Thomas to play for the Bulls who can have lobs thrown for him where I don’t expect it to end terribly. I’m already salivating at the thought of Derrick and Jimmy out on the break together and we’re still four months from opening day.
Anyway, Butler’s rise allows the Bulls greater flexibility now and later — now in terms of lineups, since he and Deng together can guard just about anyone (read: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) and later in terms of Deng’s contract, which expires after next season.
Final Grade: A+