After scoring a career-high 28 points, snatching seven rebounds and holding Raptors’ leading scorer Rudy Gay to a 6-for-14 shooting night while playing all 48 minutes, you’d think Jimmy Butler would be happy.
But the second-year swingman couldn't care less about his production if the end result isn’t a Bulls victory.
“I’d rather have ‘Jimmy with 28 points and the Bulls win,’ but points are just a stat. I’d rather win games,” Butler said Tuesday night, after the Bulls’ 101-98 loss to the Raptors. “I’d rather not score at all and get a mark in the win column. But it feels good to put the ball in the basket a little bit. But we all could have done more as a team on the offensive end or the defensive end to help win this game.”
Still, Butler was extremely impressive as a featured option. He increased his offensive output with an efficient 10-for-12 shooting night, including knocking down the trio of three-pointers he attempted and showed that not only is he a competent offensive player, but one who has a higher ceiling than anyone imagined when he was drafted out of Marquette in 2011.
“I was just taking the shots that I was given. My teammates found me in transition, in the corner. I feel like a lot of it goes to them because they’re attacking and they’re getting me open shots, so kudos to those guys. But I’m not really tired,” he said, in a nod to injured teammate Luol Deng, the league’s reigning minutes-per-game leader and the player he replaced in the starting lineup Tuesday. “I’ve got a long way to go, but the confidence that I have is going to keep building.”
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Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is clearly much more trusting of Butler than he was earlier in the season and these days, almost every word out of the coach's mouth about the Texas native is positive.
“Terrific. Plays hard, great demeanor, keeps battling, keeps getting better and better. Did a great job,” Thibodeau said. “He’s got a lot of opportunities. I think they are looking for him … I thought he made good plays. I thought when the ball went into him, the second defender came, he moved the ball, so he’s making the right play. That’s what I’m more concerned with.”
His teammates also lauded Butler's impressive performance.
“Oh, he was great. I talked to him before the game,” guard Rip Hamilton said. “I just told him, ‘You’ve got to be confident. You’ve got to go out there and play hard. You’ve got to go out there and act like you want the ball on the offensive end. Everybody knows what you can do defensively, but nobody expects you to do what you do offensively. But you’ve got to expect it from yourself.’ And he really showed it tonight.”
Nate Robinson concurred: “Jimmy had a great game, on offense and defensively on Rudy, and did a great job on whoever he was guarding.”
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Butler has earned a reputation as a tough and versatile defensive specialist with slashing ability and exciting above-the-rim finishes, but nobody thought such a reluctant outside shooter at the beginning of the season would develop into a confident long-range marksman.
“That’s OK,” said Butler, who has also improved his handle and mid-range game, as well as showcasing emerging back-to-the-basket skills. “I feel like that’s what the coaching staff’s for and that’s what the gym’s for, so you can go in and work, and do whatever your team needs you to do.
“Just reps, reps and some more reps. When you hit them in a game, your confidence builds and you know that you can make that,” he continued. “There’s always room for improvement. You’re not going to be perfect in any one aspect of your game, so you keep working until hopefully you reach that point.”
Butler is now being discussed as a popular candidate for the Bulls’ permanent starting shooting guard of the future — not to jump the gun, but if the Bulls don’t lock him up after next season, which would be his third year in the NBA, he’ll be in popular demand as scouts from other teams are already evaluating him closely — next to former league MVP Derrick Rose in the backcourt.
“The future — hell, tomorrow’s not even promised — not to even think of next season,” he said. “It brings a smile to my face obviously, but I try not to get too caught up in the future because it’s not promised. You never know what can happen, so right now, I live for the moment and I praise every moment that I’m given because it’s a blessing, but knowing that they want me to be here alongside Derrick, Lu and all these other guys, that makes me smile.”