When Jimmy Butler first arrived on the scene for the Chicago Bulls, Bulls fans didn’t know what to expect from the 6-foot-7 small forward from Marquette University. Taken with the final selection in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, Butler was known primarily as a defensive-minded player who would fit well in Tom Thibodeau’s system. However, as the years went on, Butler proved himself in more ways than one.
During his rookie year, Butler rarely got any playing time for the Bulls. Buried in a rotation that consisted of veterans Richard Hamilton, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and All-Star Luol Deng, Butler was able to find minutes sparingly due to his hard work in practice and off-the-court work with the Bulls’ coaching staff. Nevertheless, his big moment would come on Feb. 2, 2012 against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Butler managed to score seven points in 21 minutes of play. But more importantly, it was his defense against superstar forward Carmelo Anthony in the fourth quarter that set the tone for the Bulls. Chicago managed to squeak out a 105-102 victory over the Knicks, while Butler able to make a name for himself amongst his team and the fans.
Fast forward to the 2012-13 NBA season, former MVP guard Derrick Rose is out for the season and Hamilton and Deng still remain ahead of Butler in the rotation. In addition, the Bulls also acquired another wing player in Marco Belinelli through free agency. But with an array of injuries to Hamilton, Butler was able to cement himself as the starting shooting guard — ahead of Belinelli and moving Hamilton to the bench upon his return.
Butler finished the regular season averaging 8.6 points per game to go along with four rebounds. During that time, Butler earned the nickname “Jimmy Buckets” by former Bull and broadcaster Stacy King due to his ability to score and get to the rim. His evolution continued as Butler drew the tough task of defending All-Stars Joe Johnson and LeBron James in the postseason. On top of that, he improved his numbers in the playoffs by averaging 13.3 points per game and 5.2 rebounds.
After a slow start in the 2013-14 season, Butler is back on track spreading his legend. With another season-ending injury to Rose, and with Deng traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Butler has established himself as a staple of the Bulls for the long haul.
Once a rookie that couldn’t find his way on the court, Butler has emerged as a player who Thibodeau can’t afford to lose. Expect the evolution of Butler to continue for many more years to come.
Wally Jacobs is a Chicago Bulls writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Wjac1.