It wasn’t billed as a one-on-one battle and certainly should be taken into context, but the final box score shows that Jimmy Butler scored 19 points in Sunday afternoon’s 109-90 Bulls’ win over the Knicks at the United Center, while guarding All-Star small forward Carmelo Anthony, who scored 21 points.
Of course, Butler wasn’t exactly the Knicks’ top priority on the other end of the floor, and besides a turn-back-the-clock stint from power forward Amar’e Stoudemire, Anthony didn’t have much help on offense. But the fact remains: Butler, who is starting to be billed as one of the league’s premier wing defenders, continues to live up to that emerging reputation.
“I feel like defense is what I pride myself on, so when somebody hits a tough shot — I mean, you’re in the NBA. You’re going against guys that do that all the time, that’s been doing that for however many years that they’ve been in the league,” he explained. “So you’ve got guys behind me (saying), ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. The next one. That’s tough, that’s what he does.’ Even if he hits another one, it’s like, ‘Hey, he’s not going to make those all night. Those shots aren’t going to beat you.’”
The third-year swingman’s offense is also getting in gear, as he no longer hunts down as many outside shots and has gotten back to drawing fouls off his explosive drives.
“I definitely think so, but when I get there, I’ve got to finish,” Butler critically observed. “If I don’t finish (and) I get fouled, I’ve got to make my free throws. I haven’t been doing that these past few games.”
But while he can nit-pick about his own play, his coaches and teammates are ecstatic about his development as a consistent two-way force, not to mention his relentless nature, demonstrated by his save of a loose ball and subsequent sprint out of bounds — behind the courtside seats — during the Bulls' torrid first-quarter start to the game.
“Jimmy was terrific. You can’t say enough about his game ... he’s out there, you’re battling against Carmelo and that puts enormous pressure on you. Then, he got off. He had the big first half scoring. I thought he made a lot of good plays for us off pick-and-roll. He’s in a really good rhythm right now,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said.
"I love his mindset, too, because it’s a load to handle all of that. And his demeanor is terrific, because there are plays in which he defends as well as you can defend and they make. And the next time, he comes right back and he does it over and over again. When you can make a scorer work for his points, that’s all you can ask him to do and then to carry over what he does offensively — to run the floor, to move without the ball, to get into pick-and-roll, to post — we’re asking him to do a lot on that end, too. So he’s playing at a very, very high level right now."
All-Star center Joakim Noah concurred: “Jimmy’s playing some real hungry basketball. He’s a rock on this team, and I think it’s just only the beginning for him because there’s still so many areas that he can get better at and he’s a guy that just works, works, works. So the sky’s the limit for him.”