Film Room: Jimmy Butler had a bad day

Jan 27, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) enters the game during the first quarter against the Miami Heat at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 27, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) enters the game during the first quarter against the Miami Heat at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Jimmy Butler has been playing lights out basketball this season. He’s been so good that he managed to sneak into the All-Star Game as a starter, alongside LeBron James and phenom Giannis Antetokounmpo. But like all things Chicago Bulls, there must be a downside to all the good things.

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Yes, Butler took a turn for the worse over the past week. The team struggled in a few games, notably against the Atlanta Hawks twice, on January 20 and again January 25. The first game was an absolutely blowout. The second game was an absolute collapse. No matter how you slice it, the Bulls were bad.

Naturally, the first thing you should do when you’re frustrated about how your team is playing – go to the media. Both Butler and new best buddy, Dwyane Wade, let loose about their frustrations this season. And then Rajon Rondo fired back. It was the most embarrassing and entertaining thing to happen to the Chicago franchise in recent memory.

As a type of punishment, both Wade and Butler were forced to start their game against the Miami Heat on the bench, Friday night. That game also didn’t turn out so well for the Bulls.

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It was certainly going to be a struggle game for Chicago with all the media attention and team issues that needed to be ironed out. The struggle from Butler was particularly real and he shot a career worst 1-for-13 from the field. Some insinuated that Butler was going mini-LeBron James with his effort, putting in enough to not make it obvious, but still dogging it just enough. This is something that James has seemingly done multiple times in his career when Kyrie Irving may have been butting heads with him or the front office wasn’t responsive to his demands to place a better roster around him.

Now, the accusation was that Butler was repeating that behavior with his awful display against the lowly Heat that were without their two best defenders, Justise Winslow who is out for the season and Hassan Whiteside. Let’s go to the tape.

First Quarter

First of all, I think that child just ate food off the floor at the United Center.

Butler entered the game for the first time at 6:53 of the first quarter. He went to work pretty quickly, but instead of using his trademark size and strength to get into the lane, he settles for an ugly look. Not typical Jimmy, not a good shot.

I don’t believe most things being said about Butler’s performance on the offensive end of the floor in this game. Except, for this one time. I almost certainly cannot be convinced that Butler didn’t miff that alley oop from Rajon Rondo at least in part on purpose. Looking at his hands and how he elects to put that shot up just looks all wrong. Maybe he really did misjudge it that bad, but he had the ball in perfect position and throws it right over the hoop.

I joked about it being a spite of Rondo, blowing a potential assist.

Butler kept going to post-ups and it was not great. Not much energy. He also didn’t move at all on plays he wasn’t the ball handler for. In his first offensive possession, he walked to the corner and just stood there the entire possession before it turned into a turnover on a bad pass.

His attempt off Cristiano Felicio’s screen was ugly and bad. It seemed like he got caught looking for contact that never came and just kind of chucked up a shot that never had a chance.

Second Quarter

Butler had a bricked open 3-pointer and it was fitting, given his voiced frustration about the roles of younger players on this Bulls team who also took open 3s and came up short.

At 10:57 of the second quarter, we get the big payoff – Butler’s lone bucket. All-around great stuff. Rondo has put in a bunch of extra effort since the social media shenanigans and he’s looked great working off the bench and with the second unit which is a best case scenario for Rondo, his other option being a deal in Turkey or China or maybe Paul Zipser’s old club in Germany, FC Bayern.

Speaking of Zipser, I included a clip of a possession that ended in a Zipser make, but it was really confusing because Butler passed up several opportunities to shoot or attack the rim. Butler also initiated contact, but couldn’t get the calls on a few attempts during the game.

Third Quarter

It’s just more of the same in the third quarter. Butler finally attacks and gets to the rim and then somehow shoots right over it.

He always had another wide-open 3 that missed. Those are toss-ups and don’t really explain if Butler was dogging it. He seemed to be at least somewhat engaged, but settling for a turnaround jumping is bizarre and he was woefully short on another apathetic long-two jumper off another Felicio screen, just like he did in the first half.

I don’t see the case being made that Jimmy is throwing the game. What it looks like is a player who is just out of it because he just got scolded. It’s a lot like the kid in church who was making weird sounds to try getting his brothers to laugh. He also spilled water so I asked him what was wrong with him and he was sad about that. It’s just like that. Fred Hoiberg asked Jimmy what was wrong with him because he was saying things he shouldn’t have shared with the press. Just kidding. Clearly it was Gar Forman or John Paxson that handed this down because at no point does it look like Hoiberg is in charge of this team right now.

Fourth Quarter

Butler had probably his single worst possession of the game right here. He spent about 14 seconds of a possession dribbling around before getting off another shot where he was looking for a whistle that never came.

It makes sense that Jimmy would be looking to attack and draw the foul, but down 11 points in the fourth quarter is a poor time to waste an entire possession on that kind of thing. A star player isn’t anything without belief in their abilities, must have been what Jimmy was going for, right?

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Here’s another thing, too. Butler looked to be dealing with a finger issue? He made it clear before his first free throw that there was some discomfort on his heavily taped digit on his non-shooting hand. Immediately after that, he missed a free throw.

Overall, it was an ugly game for Jimmy, but he bounced back after that. Butler scored 28 points on 8-for-18 shooting from the field and 12-of-15 shooting at the free throw line. Seems that Jimmy was out of his funk and continued the excellence he has been demonstrating all season.

It isn’t clear what was going on with him during the game against Miami, but it was particularly unfortunate that it happened to align with a time when there was turmoil within the team.