Fresh off an impressive win Monday night against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, the Bulls will look to keep up their success at home with a matchup against the Detroit Pistons. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill
Jimmy Butler may not want to label himself as the "Kobe Bryant Stopper" -- though he did limit the future Hall of Famer to 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting in Monday night's 95-83 win over the Lakers -- but the second-year swingman out of Marquette has been everything the Bulls needed when Luol Deng aggravated a hamstring injury last Friday in Boston.
Over the last three games -- the latter two of which were his first and second career starts -- Butler is averaging 13.6 points 6.6 rebounds and may draw yet another start tonight against the Pistons. Deng did not practice Tuesday and, with Butler playing as well as he has been, there's no need for Tom Thibodeau to rush back his leading scorer given how often a hamstring injury can linger all season if not treated properly.
The numbers do tell part of the story of Butler's resurgence, but the Bulls' 2011 first-round draft pick has played just as well defensively -- taking after Thibodeau's team model -- in that span. Guarding the likes of Boston's Paul Pierce, Memphis' Rudy Gay and Bryant mirror the traits that moved Butler into the first round of the draft two years ago. His versatility allowed Marquette coach Buzz Williams to utilize his swing man on defense against four different positions, and Butler -- who was rarely used as a rookie -- has proved his worth in the past three games, if not the entire season.
Overlooked as a junior college athlete before arriving at Marquette as a junior, Butler waited until the end of the first round to hear his name called despite leading the Golden Eagles to their first Sweet 16 in 2011 for the first time since the days of Dwyane Wade. Butler has played with a chip on his shoulder his entire playing career and has never been one for the spotlight.
The three key Pistons that Butler and the Bulls will face tonight, however, have been in the spotlight ever since high school, and are now making names for themselves at the NBA level.
Point guard Brandon Knight, power forward Greg Monroe and center Andre Drummond have helped the Pistons rebound from a horrid start to the 2012-'13 season and are playing some of their best basketball as they head to the United Center tonight. They've won five of eight contests since the calendar flipped to 2013, and have tallied a 9-4 record since Dec. 21. Wins in that span have included Miami, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Boston, all playoff teams as of today.
Like Derrick Rose, who began contact practice with the Bulls earlier this week, Knight is one of a handful of players on the list of Kentucky head coach John Calipari's point guard "dynasty." Ranked as the No. 6 high school player in the 2010 class, Knight spent one season with the Wildcats before the Pistons selected him No. 8 overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. He has regressed slightly in his second season, but has the athleticism and talent to make Kirk Hinrich's job a tough one. Knight scored 21 points in the Pistons' 108-104 home loss to Chicago in December.
Monroe was ranked as the No. 8 high school player in the 2008 class, and declared for the draft after two successful seasons with the Georgetown Hoyas. The Pistons used their seventh overall pick in the 2010 Draft to select Monroe, and after an up-and-down rookie season the 6-foot-9 forward has become a key cog inside for Lawrence Frank's group. Monroe squared off against Butler three times in college, with his Hoyas holding a 2-1 advantage over Butler's Golden Eagles.
One of the reasons Monroe has improved has been the shift to move him to his more natural power forward position. That was made possible, in part, by management selecting Drummond with the No. 9 pick in last year's draft. After reclassifying to the 2011 high school class, Drummond was ranked No. 2 in the country, behind only Anthony Davis. Davis would go on to Kentucky, win a national championship, be named the AP Player of the Year, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and the NCAA Tournament's MOP. Things weren't as smooth for Drummond, who struggled at Connecticut under Jim Calhoun and entered the draft after his freshman season. But the raw talent the Pistons saw in the 6-foot-10 center was legitimate, and he's averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds for Detroit in his rookie season.
Veterans Rodney Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince have also helped the Pistons rebound from an 0-8 start to begin the season, but the young guns deployed by Frank -- who replaced Thibodeau as an assistant in Boston after Thibodeau accepted the Bulls' head coaching gig -- are the players to watch for in tonight's matchup. If the last week is any indication, Butler will have his sights set again on locking down defensively and acting as a role player in the offense. Tune in tonight to catch all the action.