DEERFIELD, Ill.—When asked to analyze how he was meshing in the starting backcourt with Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler put some thought into his response.
“Still working on it, but I feel like you kind of get to mesh with the guys that are out there on the floor with you, going to the basket or spotting up or letting him create,” the Bulls’ starting shooting guard observed after Thursday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center. “I feel like all eyes are going to be on him a majority of the time anyways so you just have to be ready. Sometimes you don’t know the ball is coming to you, but it will get there somehow, someway.”
But when queried about whether the combination of he and Rose, two players known for playing above the rim, was the most athletic starting backcourt in the NBA, Butler was diplomatic, albeit in a tone that he knew what the answer was and simply wanted the assembled media to come to its own conclusion.
“That’s a good question. I hear it, but I don’t know,” he said, somewhat cryptically. “I guess we’ll come to find out.”
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Looking around the league, the Bulls’ guard duo might be the obvious choice. While there are point guards rivaling Rose’s athleticism, such as Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook or Washington’s John Wall, and shooting guards as explosive as Butler, like Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan, but not a pair on the same level as both of them collectively.
In fact, even just regarding talent—assuming Rose maintains his preseason return to at least his previous form and Butler’s second-half emergence last season evolves into the breakout campaign many observers expect—the Bulls’ backcourt could be amongst the top-five pairs of starting guards in the league.
Right now, the consensus pick would be the Golden State Warriors ‘“Splash Brothers” combo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, with the Wizards’ pair of the aforementioned Wall and second-year shooting guard Bradley Beal right behind them, if they stay healthy, continue the chemistry exhibited at the end of last season and both display expected improvement.
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But how far behind, if at all, are Rose and Butler? After all, none of the above quartet has even one All-Star nod on their resume, while Rose has an MVP award to his name.
Another potential pairing that could rank high on the list is in New Orleans, with All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday coming to the newly-christened Pelicans from Philadelphia and playing alongside a supposedly healthy Eric Gordon—or maybe free-agent acquisition Tyreke Evans, who is capable of playing all three perimeter positions—but even that group isn’t clearly superior to the Bulls.
An argument can be made that not only does the NBA’s most athletic starting backcourt reside in Chicago, but by the end of the season, a case could be made that it’s the league’s very best.