In June 2012, the Chicago Bulls were on the clock, closing in with the 30th pick in the NBA Draft. With notable players left hanging on the draft-board, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Chandler Parsons, and of course, Isaiah Thomas, were all yet to be selected. But the Bulls saw something that not many did. A lanky, athletic wing with zero offensive game was exactly who they wanted to pursue. Jimmy Butler, who just wrapped up his fifth NBA season, has now gone from a borderline second-round pick to a franchise cornerstone.
I was able to watch just about every step of Butler. To have him overachieve like this from year-to-year is unlike anything I've seen. And what makes this even more awesome, is that it came with great timing.
- Derrick Rose was headed to a long road of tough injuries and inconsistencies.
- The Bulls were desperately searching for more consistent perimeter play.
Let's date back to the 2013 playoffs. A meeting with the reigning champion Miami Heat (East Semi-Finals) was NOT in their favor -- as they were already without Rose, following a torn meniscus. When I mentioned "perfect timing" earlier, this was what I meant..
As a replacement, Nate Robinson was forced to carry a huge scoring load without Chicago's former MVP, and he had no problem doing so. He gave the Heat plenty of fits the entire series, including a huge block on Lebron James. But it wasn't just Robinson doing the damage, as an unlikely star was born in Game 1. Butler tallied 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 assists in what was a huge 93-86 victory at South Beach. The Bulls were able to go up 1-0 but eventually flamed out. They were still well over-matched, losing their next four games en route to elimination.
But this wasn't the last we would see from Jimmy. It was only the beginning.
A year later, Butler ended up proving that he had a place in the league -- skyrocketing up the rankings as one of the league's premier perimeter defenders. He ranked fourth in the league in steals behind only Chris Paul, Ricky Rubio, and Thaddeus Young. And after becoming an All-Star, to winning All-Defensive honors, Jimmy inked a multi-year contract to stay in Chicago. A five-year, $95 million deal was inked in, none can say it wasn't deserved.
Since then, the name "Jimmy G Buckets" emerged, to verify that Butler has an improved offensive game, and can simply get hot at any moment. In 2014, his field-goal percentage rose to 46% after only shooting 39% the season prior. This proves that for most players that the more shots you take and the more reps you get, the better shooter you'll become. But shockingly, Butler's true-shooting percentage has always hovered over fifty percent, so that's acceptable.
And I haven't even mentioned his improvements from long-range. In his rookie season, Butler didn't even connect on not even 20% of his threes. Of course, he only took 11 of them due to the insignificant playing time.
Jimmy has come a very long way, and the Bulls should be happy for how much room he still has to grow. He will be reaching his prime, however, and he'll be turning 27 this September. But now, a different challenge awaits him. His 2015-16 campaign wasn't the most pleasant. He failed to meet 70 games played for the second-straight year, and much of his numbers went down after various knee issues.
And it only got worse for Butler. There were often reports that he had locker-room issues with other teammates. Joakim Noah was a huge name that was continually brought up. For more details, check out bigplay.com.
As unfortunate as it may sound, is any of this surprising to hear? A pair of gritty, tough-minded, get-in-your-head teammates clashing? That's been the true identity of the Chicago Bulls for at least the last half-decade. As for Noah, who's been a huge part of the formula, was already having one of his worst seasons as a pro. And heading into this summer, no one should be surprised if he chooses to walk out of Chicago's way. It would be a fresh start for both sides, and I think it'll put Chicago out of their misery more than it would Noah's. I'd be really surprised if he comes back.
Being mentioned in trade talks including a change of scenery isn't the easiest thing to cope with. It certainly wasn't been the case for Butler. But from what I've heard, Chicago isn't trying to move him, and they shouldn't. He's the best thing that's happened to them since 2011 and is climbing the ladder of the best the league has to offer.
I expect Butler to tune-up his play even more, as the new honcho of Chicago. After missing the postseason for the first time since-since 2008, the re-tooling process has begun. And it should be exciting to watch with Jimmy leading the way.