As Bulls players begin to trickle in to the Berto Center to prepare for what could be a very special season, CSNChicago.com is getting fans ready to hit the ground running, too.
NBA training camps don't open until the end of the month, but from Monday through Friday up until Bulls' media day, we're discussing everything from Derrick Rose's comeback to the top competition in the Eastern Conference — with a twist.
CSNChicago.com has compiled the insights of anonymous behind-the-scenes league insiders (an assistant coach, a front-office executive, a retired player and an advanced scout), to go along with in-depth reporter breakdowns and complementary statistical analysis to ensure that die-hard hoops fans are up to speed when the balls officially start bouncing.
Today’s Topic: What is Jimmy Butler’s ceiling?
“I think Jimmy’s going to have a great year. Just much more confidence, much more experience now, in his third year.
“The thing with Jimmy is, ‘Is he going to be a two-guard? Is he going to be a three?’ He’s just a basketball player and he proved, during the playoffs last year, No. 1, that he is one of the best defensive players at his position. But he can knock down a jump shot and again, I think that was some of the knock on him coming out of Marquette, was exactly how well-rounded was he?
“Everybody knew he was tough, everybody knew he was a team player, and what he’s done is he’s transformed his game from what he was with Marquette and just expanded on that with Chicago. The crowd loves him, he’s a favorite in Chicago and I think he’s a great team guy.
“He can play in place of Luol (Deng) and he can play alongside of Luol, and that gives them a defensive-wing presence, where they can switch a lot of things. It doesn’t make any difference if you get cross-matched. Jimmy can guard the twos, he can guard the threes and if he can chase those two-guards off of those pin-downs by the big guys or is available to switch on a pin-down from a four or screen-roll versus two and four or three and four, he can guard smaller guys and he can guard bigger guys. So, I think he’s just going to get better and better with Chicago.”
I agree wholeheartedly. With Derrick back in the lineup and assuming everybody else stays relatively healthy, I don’t think Jimmy’s improvement will necessarily be reflected in his numbers, but after his emergence over the second half of last season, I think seeing him make a consistent two-way impact on a nightly basis is a fair expectation.
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The eye-popping development of his outside jumper might not be as pronounced this season, now that opposing teams have had an entire offseason to scout him and understand that they can’t simply give him open perimeter looks. But by the second round of the playoffs, Miami started to make that adjustment, and I was very pleased to see Jimmy begin to show advanced ball handling to free up his mid-range game. He still needs work at shot creation overall, but I can imagine that’s something he’s tackled this summer and with defenses focusing on Derrick, his straight-line driving game should continue to be effective.
Aside from when he has the ball in his hands, Jimmy has proven to be an adept offensive rebounder, and learning from the example of Luol, he’s made strides in moving without the ball to cut for easy opportunities. Obviously he’s an excellent finisher and has an excellent knack for drawing fouls, so as officials become more familiar with his name and game, that should translate into more free-throw opportunities. His diverse offensive game, while still far from fully formed, bodes well for him in the future, and though it’s unlikely to occur this season, I can see Jimmy being a consistent scorer in the teens as he becomes a more experienced veteran.
Defensively, we already know that’s where he hangs his hat, but even having moderate success against the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James as a primary defender should imbue him with even more confidence moving forward. Having the physical tools, desire and work ethic to excel as a defender is one thing, but now that he has experience, has had the chance to learn subtleties of the professional game and pick up opposing players’ tendencies, I expect him to thrive even more. The fact that the Bulls can, at least on occasion, roll out an entire lineup of plus defenders in Jimmy, Luol, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah is remarkable. Just having Jimmy and Luol as a wing duo is amazing in itself, especially since neither of them are one-dimensional players and can hold their own offensively.
I’m not exactly sure what the finished product will look like when it comes to Jimmy, but as I mentioned earlier, if made more of a featured option on offense, I wouldn’t put it past him to average in the teens (let’s go with 18 points per game as a high) as a scorer and on defense, make an All-Defensive team down the line. Even if he doesn’t get that accolade or score quite as much, we’re still looking at one of the better young two-way players in the league right now. Not bad for the 30th pick in the draft, who barely played as a rookie.
Tomorrow: How much of an impact will Mike Dunleavy make?