The Chicago Bulls have been arguably the most injury-riddled team in the NBA not named the Los Angeles Lakers, but no player has benefited more from Chicago’s shorthanded rotation than guard/forward Jimmy Butler. Because of his play when his number was called, Butler may be and should be in line for a starting role next season, possibly Luol Deng‘s.
The Bulls selected Butler at the end of the first round in 2011 after his junior year at near-by Marquette, hoping Butler could had some depth to their bench behind their starters. Butler played sparingly during his rookie season, averaging just 8.5 minutes per game and contributing only 2.6 points a night.
But Butler did flash some potential as a solid defender and a player that seemed to always make the correct play when he was on the floor. That potential led to Butler seeing increased minutes to begin this season, but no one could have predicted what was on tap for the 6’7″ wing player.
Butler was used as a spot starter at shooting guard at various times early in the season before head coach Tom Thibodeau decided to insert Butler into the starting lineup for good in the Bulls’ final 14 games of the regular season and Butler was up to the task, with Butler averaging 14.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and shooting .528 from three-point range, all while playing a staggering 42.4 minutes per game.
The Iron Man act didn’t end during the reason for Butler, either. He has started 10 of the Bulls’ playoff games and is averaging 39.6 minutes, including playing the full 48 minutes in three of Chicago’s last four games.
Current starting small forward Deng has been out since April 30th with an illness, allowing Butler to play his more natural position. Deng is due to make $14 million in the final year of his contract next season, leaving the door open for the Bulls to move him in order to free up cap space if needed.
Butler’s play has been solid enough to make trading Deng more realistic, especially with Butler due to get a contract extension after next season that will almost certainly be more economical than Deng’s. Don’t be surprised if Butler’s spot in the starting lineup is a permanent one, and at the expense of Luol Deng.