After last year’s postseason run, Chicago Bulls fans thought they had a future star in Jimmy Butler. Despite losing to the Miami Heat in the second round in just five games, Butler slowed down LeBron James as much as one could being matched up against the four-time MVP (James averaged 23.6 PPG in the series, his lowest PPG average in a postseason series since the 2010-11 NBA Finals). Along with his ability to contain James, as well as his productivity on the offensive end, his play in last year’s playoffs garnered high expectations moving forward for the young winger out of Marquette University.
We may have jumped on the Butler bandwagon too quickly.
Although early season injuries caused him to miss 15 games, Butler’s per 36-minute production was almost identical to that of his play last season (0.3 increase in points per 36 minutes). Using advanced statistics, we can see that even though he garnered more minutes this season, his productivity increase was inconsistent.
This is a problem for Chicago. Butler has a ton of talent, especially as a two-way player, but his development is moving at a slower pace than Chicago can afford. Much of that could be attributed to the idea that the team and roster was built around Derrick Rose this season, but moving Luol Deng mid-season hurt Butler more than it helped him. If there was a veteran that I would want Butler to learn the game and his position from, it would be Deng.
Ultimately, Chicago is hoping that Butler can mold into a player similar to that of Indiana Pacers‘ star winger Paul George. Both players are arguably two of the best wing defenders in the game, but George’s offensive game has steadily improved over his four years in the NBA.
I don’t know if Butler can ever get to the level of George offensively, as he lacks the explosiveness that makes George so effective when driving into the lane, but he most certainly could improve his game at that end of the court. Playing with All-Stars like Rose and Joakim Noah, Butler’s ability to make open jumpers could define his offensive role on next season’s team.
Keeping in mind that this is only Butler’s third season in the league, there is still plenty of time for him to improve. He’s never going to be a star player, so we all need to pump the brakes on Butler being a comparable replacement for Deng at this juncture. With more time and grooming, he could eventually be that ultimate two-way player, but realistic expectations need to be made from the Chicago faithful (myself included).
Were we disappointed in Butler’s performance this season? Yes. We honestly were expecting a lot more. But then again, didn’t we as fans expect much more from the team as a whole?
The 2014-15 season, Butler’s fourth in the NBA, will be the most important year of his career. Every Chicago fan is hoping it his best season by far, because if it’s not, he may not be a Chicago Bull beyond next season.