Last season, the Chicago Bulls over-exceeded their expectations and made some intriguing developments within their organization. Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are part of the core and they've been playing the same way for the past few years. With the exception of Noah, who garnered his first All-Star selection, the team has molded an identity and we already know what we're getting out of them.
The hidden gem, however, quickly revealed itself in the form of Jimmy Butler. The second-year guard out of Marquette averaged 14.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG and 2.8 APG on 47.1 percent shooting from the field while playing over 42.4 minutes per game in the last 11 games of the regular season (per Basketball Reference).
Although the emergence of Butler seemed pretty quick and fluid, the Bulls have been struggling to find a legitimate starting shooting guard for the past few seasons. In fact, the 2-guard area has been the area that has hindered the Bulls time and time again, as they were unable to provide their superstar point guard Derrick Rose with a reliable backcourt mate.
In 2011 when the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference Finals, they used a combination of Keith Bogans, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer at shooting guard. None of them could create their own shot or put much pressure on the defense, so Rose was suffocated by the Miami Heat defense and the Bulls fell in five games.
A year later, the Bulls welcomed veteran Rip Hamilton and he was expected to be the solution at that position. However, he was just a shell of his former self on both ends of the floor and it didn't take long for the organization to let him go.
Next season will be the start of something new.
Rose will be back and the rest of the core should start off a new season healthy.
Even though Rose is the best player on the team by far, he won't be able to lead the team by himself. Butler will presumably be the starting shooting guard (via Zach Lowe of Grantland.com) at the beginning of the 2013-14 season and he is one of the best sidekicks that Rose could ask for.
Although Butler may not be an elite playmaker or spectacular at creating his own shot yet, his skill set provides the perfect complement to that of Rose.
For one, Butler is an efficient shooter who picks his spots wisely and not a volume scorer who needs to take many shots to get into a rhythm. Last season, he registered a respectable true shooting percentage of 57.4 percent, which is a measure that includes three-point percentage and free-throw percentage to calculate a player's shooting efficiency.
He's also a solid rebounder for his size, grabbing 5.5 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career even when Boozer and Noah—two spectacular rebounders—are on the floor at the same time.
If those numbers aren't impressive enough, the most glaring stat in Butler's resume is his turnovers. He averages a ridiculously low 1.0 turnovers per 36 minutes. With Rose on the floor, Butler won't be handling the ball much anyway, but we can count on him to not fumble the ball or throw a bad pass when he's given an opportunity.
Butler's also a tremendous energy and hustle player who does all the little things to help his team win. Another eye-catching stat is his 2.3 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes. For comparison, his teammate Boozer grabs 2.5 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, and Boozer has been considered one of the best rebounders in the past decade.
On defense, Butler is just as impressive.
According to 82games.com, Butler held opposing shooting guards to a mind-boggling PER of 7.0 and small forwards to a PER of just 12.7.
During the playoff series against the Heat, Butler was the main person guarding LeBron James because Deng was hurt. Butler held James to just 23.6 PPG on 43.8 percent shooting. Unsurprisingly, this series was James' lowest field goal percentage and scoring output in the entire postseason.
With all that said, Butler will be the most important player in the Bulls' hopes for winning the championship. His role on the team is just as important as the rest of the starting lineup, but he also brings a new dimension at the 2-guard spot that the team has been missing since Ben Gordon left town in 2009. The success and failures of the Bulls could hinge on Butler's contributions on both ends of the floor.