Jimmy Butler has grown steadily as a player, and he is inching closer to the NBA’s elite.
Yes, he only scored two points in the first half, but that doesn’t take away from how celestially great that second half was. Forty points. In 24 minutes. That’s 1.67 points per minute. Let’s just take a second to appreciate that.
Not only that, but Butler also scored that 40 on only 15 shots, shooting 66.7% for the half including making two of three three-point attempts, and 10 of 11 free throws. If he had even a decent first half, this could have been a truly special night.
Now, let’s not go comparing Butler to Jordan and dubbing him “His Heirness” or anything like that, but this huge half isn’t the only thing we’ve seen from Butler lately. In his last four games he’s averaged 31.3 points, 6.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds. Although the Bulls have been better this season with Butler in a secondary, off-the-ball role, Butler has shown that he has the ability to take over games when it is necessary of late.
This is not to take away from what Butler has been doing all season, but rather to confirm the incredible growth that he has made as a player; Butler went from overlooked high school prospect, to overlooked junior college prospect, to overlooked NBA prospect, to NBA star in a matter of just eight years. He has transformed himself into an elite two-way player, but just how elite is he?
On the year, Butler is averaging 22.1 points (12th in the league), 4.8 rebounds (103rd, 28th among wing players), 3.9 assists (51st), 1.8 steals (15th), and 0.8 blocks (56th, sixth among wing players). There is no doubt that his box score averages are impressive, but the impact of a player like Butler goes beyond the box score.
Butler is fifth in the entire NBA in win shares, with a total of 5.4. The four players ahead of him? Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant. He also comes in at ninth in win shares per 48 minutes among players that have logged at least 200 minutes (he still manages to rank 15th without that restriction).
Butler is known as one of the best two-way players in the league, and both his offensive and defensive advanced statistics support this claim. He is sixth in the league in offensive win shares and 16th in defensive win shares.
These statistics all seem to point towards Butler being an elite, top-15 range NBA player. In fact, Basketball Reference’s NBA MVP Award Tracker gives him the eighth-best chance to win MVP this season.
However, there is one statistic that is truly baffling when it comes to Butler. When Butler is on the court, the Bulls outscore opponents by 1.2 points per 100 possessions. Not terrible — it is positive, after all — but a surprising ninth on the Bulls. What is even more concerning is that when Butler is off the court, the Bulls actually outscore opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions. This leaves him with an on/off court net rating difference of -4 points.
There are a lot of factors that go into this statistic, and it cannot all be placed on the shoulders of Butler. For example, a new coach and inconsistent performances by Rose and Joakim Noah have led to a seeming lack of chemistry and effort at times from the Bulls. This is no longer Tom Thibodeau’s hard-nosed, defensive-minded Bulls, and perhaps Hoiberg’s system has not quite fit the personnel that Butler is usually on the floor with.
There is no doubt that Butler has been a bright spot for the up-and-down Bulls this season. That being said, it is hard to put a player whose team has been performing better when he is off the floor — even if it cannot all be attributed to him — among the prestigious elite ranks of the NBA. This is only Butler’s fourth year, however; expect him to break into those ranks very soon. If you don’t, you wouldn’t be the first one to doubt him.
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