DEERFIELD, Ill. — Not that he usually has it easy when it comes to defensive assignments, but during the Bulls’ six-game home stand, Jimmy Butler has been tasked with some brutal matchups.
The third-year swingman has already guarded Miami’s LeBron James, Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s Rudy Gay, holding the scorers to 17 points on 8-for-23 shooting, eight points on 2-for-7 shooting and 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, respectively. Monday, in the Bulls’ final game at the United Center before going back on the road, Butler will have to defend the league’s premier offensive weapon, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
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Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau believes that Butler’s ability to at least make life difficult for the aforementioned players and the rest of the NBA’s top wing scoring threats should garner the Marquette product All-Defensive Team recognition at season’s end.
“Well, I’m biased, but in my opinion, he is. I don’t know if it gets much better than him on the perimeter,” the coach explained after Sunday afternoon’s practice at the Berto Center. “There’s no off nights. Every team you’re facing is going to have a dynamic scorer. Jimmy, I love his demeanor and his attitude. Jimmy is a fierce, fierce competitor and when you’re guarding those guys, you can guard them great and they still have the ability to make, and Jimmy’s going to keep on coming.
“He doesn’t stop and he doesn’t get discouraged, and he battles and last night, it wasn’t a great night offensively, but I thought he played a great game,” the coach continued, referencing Butler’s 1-for-11 shooting night in Saturday night’s home win over the Kings. “He came up with a huge loose ball late in that game that was critical for us to win and that’s what I respect about him. So Jimmy’s tough and he’s guarding everyone. He guards point guards, twos, threes, fours. We have the opportunity to do some switching with him. Small on big, doesn’t matter. If he ends up on a big, he’s physical, he’s tough, he’s mentally tough. Those are all the characteristics that you need.”
Butler has taken on even more responsibility since January’s trade of Luol Deng, who was regarded as one of the league’s top defensive small forward.
“He and Luol played very well together and what it allowed you to do was you could move them around. Jimmy would guard someone for five or six minutes, then Lu would take him, and you go back and forth,” Thibodeau said. “It was a little more flexibility in that sense and to make up for that, we’re using Taj more in those situations, and Joakim. But Jimmy, whatever the challenge is, whatever you ask him to do, he’ll do and I know the coaching staff, his teammates, we have a lot of respect for what he does.”