Remember when the Chicago Bulls were desperately seeking a scoring shooting guard to play alongside Derrick Rose?
They once had a guy named Keith Bogans manning that position, but he did not work out too well. Then the Bulls acquired Richard Hamilton, but he was past his prime. With the failed projects, the Bulls registered their interest in many free-agent shooting guards over the years, including Jordan Crawford, Ray Allen, Jodie Meeks, and many more.
But they had to look no further than their 2011 30th overall pick, Jimmy Butler.
Butler came into the league known mainly for his defense. In his first year in a Chicago uniform, he was a third string small forward behind Luol Deng and Kyle Korver. In his second season, once Korver left in free agency, Butler’s role was immediately increased, as he played in all 82 games and earned 20 starts.
Once Richard Hamilton was waived and Luol Deng was traded, Butler became a fulltime starter, taking over the shooting guard position with Mike Dunleavy at small forward.
However, while Butler’s defense was top notch, his offense wasn’t where it needed to be. Last season, he shot just 39.7 percent from the field and 28.3 percent from three-point distance on 13.1 points per game.
That all changed for him this season.
To Chicago’s delight, Butler started the 2014-2015 season off on fire, averaging 21.9 points and 5.7 rebounds on nearly 50 percent shooting in the first month. Many believed he would cool down, but this wasn’t a fluke. Butler kept his scoring numbers up throughout the season to finish with averages of 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists on 46.2 percent shooting from the field and 37.8 percent from three.
Suddenly, the Bulls realized that they have one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league, something they were looking for during Derrick Rose’s MVP season. Butler’s vast improvement kept the Bulls up even when injuries kept them down.
How did he all of a sudden make an enormous stride in just one offseason?
A lot has to do with his work ethic, but partial credit also goes to the big Spaniard in the middle. The Bulls nabbed two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer for a bargain deal, and boy has he paid off.
Over the years, the Bulls never had a low post scorer like Gasol, one who could draw double teams and is a willing passer. With all due respect to Carlos Boozer, Gasol was a major upgrade at the power forward slot. He has opened up the floor for the Bulls offense, allowing more spacing for the perimeter shooters.
As you can see in the video above, Ersan Ilyasova chooses to leave Mike Dunleavy and drop down to double team Pau Gasol. Gasol sees the double and tosses the ball back out to Dunleavy who swings it to Rose who passes it to Butler. By this time, Ilyasova is lost on defense, and the Bucks are scrambled and out of position, which leads to an and-one play for Butler. Those three points were clearly created by Gasol.
In this next video, Gasol doesn’t even touch the ball but is the one who creates an opening for Butler. The play develops down low where Gasol commands for the ball after setting a brush screen on O.J. Mayo. From there, the Bucks are scrambled again. Thanks to Gasol’s brush screen, Dunleavy pops out on top and forces Khris Middleton and an out-of-position Mayo to converge, leaving Butler alone underneath the rim for an easy two assisted by Rose.
It is little plays like the ones seen above that make Gasol such a wonderful player, which has ultimately made the game easier for Butler. And these are just a couple examples from one game.
With Derrick Rose being significantly healthy this season, that has also helped Butler see more openings.
"I do feel comfortable," Butler said. "But I think [Rose] makes it easier. Because everybody pays attention to him probably more than they pay attention to me. So all I've got to do is step up and make shots. Or get to the cup or get to the free-throw line. All because of him and Pau and Jo, I think I have a pretty easy job."
Jimmy Butler has certainly made a name for himself this season as he is the vote-getter for Most Improved Player. From a starting role player to an All-Star, Butler has been the most consistent Chicago Bulls player this season.
The Bulls search for a permanent shooting guard is over.
During Derrick Rose’s uprising, the shooting guard positon was the weakest for the Bulls. Now with Rose regressing due to multiple knee injuries, their best player arguably is Jimmy Butler and, coincidentally, he plays the shooting guard position.