HOUSTON — Jimmy Butler’s first game back from being sidelined for almost a month with a right turf-toe injury was a something of a feel-good story.
In last week’s Bulls’ win — a rarity these days, as the team has won three games since Butler was injured during a Nov. 18 home victory over Charlotte — the third-year swingman returned to the lineup to score 16 points to beat Milwaukee, in the same building where he played his college basketball, at Marquette. Butler only shot 4-for-12 in that game, then followed it up with a more efficient, albeit less impactful 4-for-6 shooting, 11-point outing the next night against Charlotte, before Monday’s 1-for-11, four-point performance made things obvious.
“I feel like everything is off,” he told CSNChicago.com, admitting the obvious. “I’m missing a lot of shots.”
Indeed, Butler’s outside-shooting stroke, something he’s taken a lot of pride in improving has been off the mark as of late, something not completely unexpected after being on the shelf for nearly a month. But perhaps more jarring is to see Butler settle for so many jumpers when his bread and butter during his emergence over the second half of last season and the playoffs, as well as a solid start before his injury this season, was getting to the rim and drawing fouls.
Part of Butler regaining his previous form sooner than later will be a combination of hard work and making the adjustment to being a player featured on the opposing team’s scouting report these days, something he acknowledged.
“Yeah, but I feel like it’s still being a basketball player. You can still make basketball plays, no matter what the scouting report says. You’re still going to get open shots if you get in the right position and execute the offense well. So it’s all about me just making shots and when I’m not making, don’t get down on myself and be prepared to take the next one,” Butler explained. “I’ve just got to get back in the gym, continue working, like I always have been doing. It’s tough being hurt, being out and coming right back into the mix. But I still feel like that’s not an excuse. I’ve still got to make plays happen and get it back rolling.”
Like the player himself, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau expects Butler to eventually find his groove and experience the continued development many observers predicted for him entering the campaign. The coach also makes the allowance that after Butler missed time in the preseason with a knee bruise suffered on the team’s excursion to Brazil, followed by a more extended absence related to his turf toe, it shouldn’t come as a total shock that the athletic two-way wing, who is averaging 11 points per game in his first season as a full-time starter has endured some early struggles.
“It’s been up and down, which is what you expect. I’m not surprised. It’s like when Joakim misses all of training camp. You know it’s not going to be smooth to start. Now Joakim has come around. Jimmy had something similar,” Thibodeau explained. “I thought he was great at the start of camp and then, when he missed 10 or 11 days with the knee, he wasn’t consistent when he came back. But then he put in a ton of work. He was in [the Berto Center] every night. He was actually playing very well when he got re-injured and injured his toe. I have a lot of confidence in him. Jimmy isn’t afraid to work. He has to get back in the gym. Once he does that, he’ll be fine.
“He is very aggressive. He knows oftentimes, the game tells you the shots you’re going to get. Jimmy can help us a lot of different ways. It’s not just with his shooting or scoring. It’s his defense, his moving without the ball, his ability to make plays for others,” he went on to say. “I think the important thing right now is for guys to think about how they can help the team. If you’re not shooting well, do something else. There are a lot of other things you can do to help. Sometimes someone else has a better matchup or a hot hand. That’s the way Jimmy plays. He plays for the team and everybody has to do that. We’re shorthanded and we can never lose sight of how hard we have to play, and we’ve got to have the ability to do that each and every day.”
Maybe a visit back home — Butler’s hometown of Tomball, Tex., is approximately 35 miles from Houston, where the Bulls will face the Rockets in a late start Wednesday at the Toyota Center — can help prompt Butler’s turnaround.