Can Jimmy Butler Play Point Guard?


Over the past couple days, there’s been an interesting thought that I think could become a thing for the Chicago Bulls this upcoming season. Could Jimmy Butler play some point guard in Fred Hoiberg’s rotation?

Before I get started, I would like to personally thank the folks over at SB Nation’s Blog-a-Bull for bringing this topic to the light, because this has been one of my biggest concerns with the new-look Chicago Bulls this season.

There’s no denying that Jimmy Butler has become one of the best overall players in the NBA today. His meteoric rise from his first three seasons to last year’s explosion was vital for the Bulls then, and it was crucial for the Bulls moving forward into the future.

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Derrick Rose missed 31 games due to a handful of minor injuries and a re-torn right meniscus, Joakim Noah looked like a shell of himself coming off knee surgery, and Tom Thibodeau’s unwillingness to give his youthful first- and second-year players more playing time, limited what the Bulls accomplished in 2014-15.

Simply put: without Butler’s versatility on both ends of the floor last season, the 2014-15 campaign would’ve been an even bigger disappointment than it was after the playoff loss to Cleveland back in June.

Now, with Butler rising towards the role of “centerpiece” for the Bulls after signing a maximum contract to stay in Chicago, what’s next for him under Fred Hoiberg?

Earlier this week, TheHungarianJordan broke down how Butler could become Hoiberg’s backup point guard that the Bulls are lacking. (And no, don’t write “Kirk Hinrich” the comments section. I meant a reliable option.)

An excerpt from his article on Butler:

"Offensively, Butler has always been extremely smart and careful with the ball. He had the lowest turnover rate on the team despite having a high usage rate. Butler was third on the team last season in assists per game at 3.3. While he has never been elite at setting up teammates, he was great at pushing the ball and attacking the basket, a skill that Hoiberg has hinted will be more utilized next year. Butler was in the 90th percentile in transition plays last year, so seeing him jet up the floor with the ball could potentially be a powerful weapon for Hoiberg to utilize."

This is a great point. Butler is a tremendous weapon in transition, with or without the basketball in his hands. Sure, Butler isn’t exactly an elite table-setter (more on that in a minute), but in Hoiberg’s quicker-moving offense next season, Butler with the ball in his hands coming up the hardwood could be a frightful sight for opponents.

Another reason why I think Butler should get a trial run at the point guard position: Fred Hoiberg.

Hoiberg’s offense is prime for the present-day NBA: crisp ball movement, three-point shooting reliance and versatile players. But, when you watch his offense flow at Iowa State, his wings are seemingly the odd men out.

An example of what I mean is former UNLV wing (and Iowa State transfer) Bryce DeJean-Jones. During his sophomore season two years prior, BDJ averaged 11 shots a game for the Runnin’ Rebels and scored just under 14 points a game (13.6).

After coming to Ames, his shooting percentages went up (42.7 percent to 47.6 percent), but his shot opportunities took a hit (11 FGA per game to 7.6 FGA per game). Hoiberg relied on a “big three” of Monte Morris (Rose this season), Georges Niang (Nikola Mirotic) and Jameel McKay (Noah) offensively, while his wings were usually log-jammed together in terms of production.

In Tom Thibodeau’s offense, Butler was the clear-cut go-to guy, but in Hoiberg’s offense, it’s about getting the best shot opportunities. As great as Butler was last season, his touches should be there, but will the shot chances?

Here’s the concern however, on Butler running the point:

"He took a lot of shots as a guard the past two seasons, but a lot of players do that. Does your shot selection determine your position? If we look at the natural but often flawed indicator of assist rate, Butler only averaged 4.4 assists per game, with an assist rate of 14.4. That puts him in line with Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, all good players but none point guards.If we look at his play selection, however, it starts to make a little more sense. Butler spent 23 percent of his time in pick and roll situations including passes, the second most of any set behind transition opportunities, according to Synergy Sports. He was also really efficient in those situations, coming out in the 89th percentile when passing out. But even then, that percentage of time still ranks pitifully low compared to other point guards (consider Mike Conley at 62.5 percent of the time, or 63 percent for Jameer Nelson).(, Matt Moore)"

Moore makes a good point. Butler’s numbers last season as a ball-handler look good for a SG, but can he really play extended minutes as a PG a la James Harden?

Another point from Moore:

"Point guards want the ball in their hands, at almost all times. Rose had the ball 69.2 times per game in the half-court last year according to Butler had it just 48.3. That’s the second most on the team, but still a significant gap. So if Butler thinks he’s a point guard, and he’s not getting the ball as often as Rose, that could be a point of contention."

No, I didn’t highlight this to bring the whole Rose-Butler beef rumors back to the light. This was pointed out because both of these guys need the ball in their hands as much as possible. So, if those touches are substantially different, that could be an issue.

Overall thoughts: I think Hoiberg has to at least give Jimmy Butler a trial run leading the offense. What could it possibly hurt? The first part of the season for the Bulls is going to be tweaking and trying new things offensively. Why not give Butler the keys to the offense while Rose is out for some spans of each game?

Using a basic example, a Butler-Snell-McDermott-Mirotic-Gasol lineup could be deadly at times. Butler and Mirotic in pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop actions has me all jittery, Snell is arguably the best cutter on the roster, and if McDermott can find his jumper, the spacing will be dynamic.

This is coming back to what Hoiberg mentioned when he was introduced as Bulls head coach. He mentioned how much he loves this roster and what they all bring to the table.

So, to borrow a BaB hashtag: Why not #LetJimmyBeHarden?

Next: Three Bulls that MUST see more minutes in 2015-16

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