The Chicago Bulls have had a plethora of bright spots amidst the 2012-13 NBA season. One of them has been the development of guard/forward Jimmy Butler, who has made vast progressions in his second season.
But what is his future there?
Butler had a particularly impressive stretch in late January and early February. He posted double-digit scoring numbers during 10 of 11 games while also supplying active rebounding and stifling defense.
In terms of rebounding, Butler is currently nabbing 2.41 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes according to Real GM Sports. This rate ranks higher than any shooting guard and is fifth-highest amongst small forwards. This is ample evidence that Butler excels in the little things, like offensive boards.
And in terms of defense, his prowess has been exclaimed throughout the season's first half. His value is clearly seen in the success Chicago has had with him in the mix. According to 82games.com, Butler is featured in Chicago's top two units in terms of plus/minus.
Here's a clip of Butler shutting down Bryant last month.
Furthermore, he's a humble kid with sound character, revealed in the way he carries himself on the floor and conducts himself in interviews. He's the type of guy whose effort is constant and attitude is contagious, which is exactly the type of guy you want to have on your team.
These assets alone give Butler distinct value, but as the years unfold, can he become more than a defensive stopper with a quality mindset? Can his offensive game reach new heights where he can create scoring opportunities and potentially take pressure off Derrick Rose?
Based on the strides Butler has made, these are pertinent questions for the Bulls to consider as they look towards the future.
The general thought has been that Chicago needs to find an explosive shooting guard who can be a fitting backcourt mate next to Rose. The Bulls have tried various options alongside Rose, but none of them have given the Bulls the total package they need. These options have included Keith Bogans (who was merely a defensive stopper), Ronnie Brewer (another mere defensive stopper) and Richard Hamilton (offensively skilled, but his aging body limits him).
Current Bull Marco Belinelli is another option to consider, but he appears better suited to come off the bench in a "spark plug" role.
Entering the season, not many figured Butler would raise eyebrows quite like he has. His impressions have reached a point where there's reason to wonder if he can be the Bulls' long-term answer alongside Rose in the backcourt.
This is hardly near being a settled issue, though. While Butler is already a prominent defender, his offensive game, while improving, still needs plenty of work before he can truly become a guy who compliments Rose.
For one, Butler isn't an assertive offensive player. He's not a "give-me-the-ball-and-watch-what-I-do-with-it" kind of player.
He can certainly finish near the rim with authority, but he hasn't shown much of an ability to create his own shot. He has knocked down some jumpers and has scored off slashes in recent games, but overall, the package of moves in his offensive arsenal are limited at this point.
The thing to remember here is that he's just 23 years old. These offensive talents could easily take shape in the next couple years, solidifying him as much more than a defensive stalwart. If these talents are soon added to his repertoire, then he's certainly nearing a place where he's the ideal shooting guard for the future.
Further, there have already been games in which he's shown promise offensively, such as when he tallied a career-high 19 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in late January.
The second issue is if he can develop a potent long-range ball. Currently, the Bulls are a lacking three-point shooting team, and if their starting lineup for the future features Rose, Butler and Luol Deng, then there's no starter who possesses a three-point shot for opponents to fear.
But, Butler could alter this outlook if he establishes a respectable three-point shot, where opponents can't leave him open to help on drives from Rose. This area of Butler's game must immensely improve, because he's currently shooting the trey ball at a clip of 26.2 percent.
The optimism here is that Butler has stellar form on his jumper (as well as an exceptionally high free-throw percentage: 87 percent), so it's reasonable to believe the long-range jumper will arrive at some point. It's not like Butler's form is in the mold of former Bull Ronnie Brewer, whose form was almost as ugly as Joakim Noah's.
If Butler adds these elements—an adept offensive skill set featuring a worthy three-point jumper—then he's answered the question concerning whether he's Chicago's long-term solution at the 2. These added layers to his offensive game, coupled with his stingy defense and productive rebounding, would make him a wondrous piece to Chicago's starting lineup for many years to come.
But signs of consistency definitely need to be seen before we can race to such a conclusion. For instance, Butler hasn't been influential in some of the Bulls' most recent games, particularly in their recent win over Utah in which he tallied zero points and zero rebounds in 13 minutes of action.
The positive with Butler, even on an off-night, is that he's always impacting the game on the defensive end. But, when considering Chicago's long-term outlook, they need a shooting guard who is efficient on both ends of the floor. This is what is needed for them to contend with the league's elite.
Butler has the potential to become this player and his recent progressions are instilling excitement with Bulls fans. If his progressions continue at this blistering rate, then he'll likely become Chicago's featured shooting guard and become an integral factor in their championship pursuit.
But, the verdict has yet to be determined. Give this a couple years and let's see how Butler's offensive arsenal matures. Perhaps by then Butler will have already helped spark Chicago to an NBA title, thus proclaiming that he's the perfect shooting guard to function as Rose's sidekick.
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