When the Bulls drafted Jimmy Butler with the final pick of the first round in the 2011 draft, I was pleased with the selection. Having seen Butler play at Marquette, I felt like the Bulls had just chosen a guy that, while he’d never be a superstar, was going to be a solid rotation guy for years to come. You can’t ask for much more than that with the 30th pick.
Now, halfway through Butler’s third NBA season, I fear my initial thoughts on Butler will prove to be dead on.
Expectations were raised last season. The best thing to happen to the Bulls without Derrick Rose was the emergence of Butler. He had a solid regular season as his minutes per game more than tripled, and finished with a PER of 15.2. Butler provided above average to excellent defense guarding against three different positions, while showing flashes of somebody who could be much more than a role player on offense. Then the playoffs came and Butler’s offensive game took another leap forward. He averaged 13.3 points per game while shooting 44% from the field and 41% from three, while excelling in the pick-and-roll.
So heading into this year, knowing he’d be playing alongside Derrick Rose, Bulls fans were waiting for Butler to take his game up another level. Instead he’s regressed. It’d be much easier to blame this on Derrick Rose’s injury if Butler hadn’t played so well without him last season, but that’s just not the case.
Now, defensively, Jimmy has been fine. His defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions on the court) is better than ever before at 99, but his numbers on the offensive end are down nearly across the board. He’s averaging more points per game, but that’s more to do with his increased role in the offense, as his usage rate has gone up to 17.9% from 14.6% last season.
The biggest problem has been his shooting. I even made a table to prove it.
|Jimmy Butler 2012-13 vs. 2013-14|
|Three-point Attempt Rate||20.5%||36.4%|
|Effective Field Goal||50.6%||42.1%|
|Free Throw Rate||45.5%||48.2%|
As you can see, Jimmy’s numbers this season have taken quite a dip. While I can’t be sure, I think most of the blame lies in the amount of threes he’s taking. His three-point rate (percentage of shots that are threes) has gone up from 20.5% to 36.4% this season and he’s only making 27.5% of them, compared to 38.1% last season. If he were making more of his threes his numbers would be a lot better.
The problem with blaming his three point attempts is that Jimmy’s penchant for shooting threes started in the playoffs last season, when he blew up. His rate went from 20.5% in the regular season to 32.2% in the playoffs. The difference was he was hitting 40.5% of his threes in the playoffs, which is obviously too high of a rate to maintain.
He’s also turning the ball over more often, though if there’s any good news it’s that he’s getting to the free throw line at a very good rate. In fact, his free throw rate leads the team, and his ability to get to the line is valuable, as he averages nearly five free throw attempts per game.
It’s just that’s a small bright spot in a whole lot of dark elsewhere.
There is no statistic for this, but to me, his shot just doesn’t look good. Last year he’d come off the pick and roll and hit the open shot. This season it looks like he’s just throwing the ball at the rim and hoping for the best.
So maybe this is all just a crisis of confidence, and he’s only a good game or two away from getting things going again. Or maybe Butler’s playoff run last season was more the exception to the rule than the reality of Jimmy Butler.
Maybe this is just who Jimmy is. A very good defender who shouldn’t be relied on as a consistent offensive threat. Maybe I’ve been right all along and didn’t know it.
I hope Jimmy proves me wrong.
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