When Luol Deng went down with a hamstring pull in the third quarter of the Bulls game against the Toronto Raptors, there was a groan in Chicago that could be heard in Indianapolis. The Bulls were without both their All-Stars. But Jimmy Butler has grabbed the opportunity to show he is the steal of the 2011 draft.
Taken with the last pick, there was enough Chicago fans had seen to believe there could be something special about Butler. His defense was put on display last season on February 2 when he held Carmelo Anthony to just four points in the fourth quarter.
Butler jumps out of the gym, boasting a 40-inch vertical. He draws contact seemingly every time he goes to the rim. And best of all to a coach like Tom Thibodeau, he defends like the rim is his entire family. It was evident he could be better than the last pick of the first round should be.
His tenacious defense was evident through the season as he was gradually given more minutes. His defense drew the raves of even opposing and neutral announcers. He often guards the best scorers on the other team but yields only .76 points per play according to Synergy.
But when Deng went down, it was the first opportunity for Butler to get extended minutes, and to say he didn't disappoint would be a vast, vast, understatement. A more apt description would be that he exceeded even the highest expectations that were laid upon him.
In the games which he's played since Deng went down, Butler's defense has been nothing short of spectacular. He has yielded only .56 points per play, a ridiculous number in it's own right. When you consider that the players he was guarding for the majority of those players were Rudy Gay, Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant, it's just flat out ludicrous.
Butler is thoroughly vicious defender. He gets up in the ball-handler's face and yields no ground. He doesn't just fight through picks, he obliterates them as though they were never even there. He is 100 percent Texan in his attitude. He defies you to get around him.
He is reminiscent of Ron Artest before he became Metta World Peace, but without being a complete and total head-case. In fact he's the opposite of Artest above the neck, absorbing coaching as though he actually wants it.
But the defense, while being better than expected, isn't the only thing that Butler has blown away Bulls fans with. He has offensive game as well. Since Deng went down, as a starter Butler is averaging 15.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game, showing that he has the stuff to be a featured part of the offense.
His jumper needs work, but his ability to get to the basket and draw contact is star-like. In fact Synergy has his 1.04 points per play on the offensive end as the 26th best average in the NBA on the season.
Once again, that number is even better since Deng went down, as Butler is averaging an insane 1.13 points per play on offense.
That kind of disparity, 1.13 points per play on offense to .56 points per play on defense is just surreal.
But that's not even the best part of what he's shown, which is clutch play, which you can't even put into words.
According to Bulls radio producer, Jeff Mangurten,
In the 4th quarter & overtime of the last 4 games, Jimmy Butler has 33 points on 11/16 shooting (69%) and is 10/10 from the line.— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) January 24, 2013
For those who are into such things, that's an .800 true shooting percentage in the fourth quarter, a.k.a. "ridiculous."
Still not impressed? His clutch-time stats, defined as the score within five points and less than five minutes to go in the fourth quarter or overtime, are gargantuan. As a starter he's shooting 75 percent from the field in the clutch and 100 percent from the stripe, while scoring at a 33 point per 48 minute clip.
While, admittedly, those numbers are inflated by a small sample size, they aren't nearly as bloated as you might think. He averages 21.1 points per 48 minutes and a .583 field-goal percentage on the season in the clutch. He also has a .500 field goal percentage from deep.
That translates to a .783 clutch-time, true-shooting percentage.
Furthermore, he has yet to miss a clutch free throw this year, in spite of drawing fouls at a rate of better than one per minute.
Now there is still a small sample size here but everything points in the right direction. Butler steps up in the clutch, and it was evident to the eye-test that Butler was a huge factor when the game went down to the wire.
Butler still needs to do it over more time, but he's showing the athleticism, defense and attitude to be a premier NBA player. Only midway through his second season, Butler is shining. He already stands above many of the players taken ahead of him.
In fact, there's really no player taken after him whose game is more complete on both ends of the court. Isaiah Thomas and Chandler Parsons might have better overall numbers, but that's a result of more minutes than of better play. Butler ranks third from his draft class in Win Share per 48 minutes per basketball-reference.
If we re-drafted the 2011 picks, Butler would easily be a top-10 pick.