In fact, Butler’s been making a lot of names for himself; he’s amassed nicknames during his brief tenure with the Bulls, each of which makes an argument for why he should be named a starter.
One nickname that Butler has been given is “Kobe-Stopper.”
In his two games against the Lakers this year, Butler was the primary defender on Bryant and held him to just 17.5 points per game on only .368 shooting, both numbers well below Bryant’s season averages of 27.2 and .468.
Butler doesn’t save his defensive prowess solely for Bryant, though; he’s a consistent defensive force in the NBA night after night. His opponents have a Player Efficiency Rating of just 11.3 against him and only 10.4 when he’s defending shooting guards, according to 82games.com. That’s what the experts call “really good defense.”
On this point, there’s a subtle thing which isn’t readily visible statistically, but if you peek at the numbers behind the numbers, they are quite telling: Luol Deng scores more when he’s sharing the court with Butler. When together, Deng scores 18.6 points per 36 minutes. Without Butler, Deng scores 13.7 points per 36 minutes.
When Deng is on the court without Butler, he has more responsibility on the defensive end. He’s constantly needing to help Belinelli, Hamilton or Robinson, and as a result all his energy is expended on defense.
However, when Butler and Deng are on the court together, Butler is such a great defender that he takes pressure off Deng. For example, watch the video below where Butler picks up LeBron James, allowing Deng to stay out at the top of the play where he just kind of hangs out. While the play resulted in a foul on James, this shows that Deng is able to expend less energy on defense because of Butler.
This frees up Deng to use more of his energy on the offensive end of the court, which is evidenced by the fact that he attempts nearly a third more shots.
It’s not immediately obvious, but Butler’s Kobe-stopping makes Deng a better offensive player.
In fact, the biggest argument against Butler starting at the 2-guard might be that it would extend Deng’s minutes even more. However, reducing the energy Deng needs to expend on those minutes might be even more important than saving the minutes.
Plus, a tall 2 is better than a short 3, particularly when you factor in how coach Tom Thibodeau relies on length in his defensive schemes.
Butler may be a stellar defensive player, but don’t let that detract from his talent on the other end of the court. In fact when he’s started, he’s averaged 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists. By comparison, Marco Belinelli has averaged 13.6 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists when starting and Richard Hamilton has 10.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
In other words, Butler has had the most points, rebounds and assists of any shooting guard who has started for the Bulls this year. That’s enough to establish that he’s the most productive of the three.
But it’s not merely his productivity that is intriguing; there’s the fact that the Bulls are a better offensive team when Butler is on the court—they have an offensive rating of 102.7 when he’s playing, compared to just 97.6 when he’s sitting.
Butler isn't a great shooter—there's no debating that. Belinelli in particular wins that contest hands-down. However, shooting and scoring aren’t the same thing, and Butler is the superior scorer to either Hamilton or Belinelli.
In fact, Butler’s true shooting percentage of .574 is far and away the best of any Bull. Nate Robinson’s .537 is a distant second. Belinelli’s is only .516, and Hamilton’s is just .484.
Butler does two things extremely well.
First, he gets to the rim. Butler is the one Bull with the athleticism to consistently put the “oop” in the Bulls' “alley.” For example, witness the moment when dinosaurs became extinct.
He doesn’t always score when he’s driving to the rim, but when he doesn’t, he draws a lot of fouls. He averages .443 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt, which is 18th in the NBA, ahead of players like Blake Griffin and LeBron James. (Incidentally, on the flip-side his average of 1.083 defensive plays per foul is 24th best in the NBA.)
This indicates there is a lot of room for Butler to grow as a scorer. With a higher usage rate, he would continue to get to the stripe and score at a high rate.
This is critical to understand when viewed in the context of Rose returning. Having a second player who can drive the lane and take contact is massive in terms of the longevity of Rose. Every time that Butler drives and draws contact, it's contact that Rose doesn’t have to take.
The other thing Butler does well is score off offensive rebounds. In fact, according to Synergy’s tracking, his 1.53 points per play on offensive rebounds is not only the best on the Bulls, it’s the best rate of any player in the Association.
That’s not hyperbole, and since it accounts for nearly 20 percent of Butler’s field goals, it’s not about a small sample size either. Butler’s tremendous hops and determination to rebound are remarkable. Of wings and guards who are 6'7" and under, only P.J. Tucker grabs offensive rebounds at a greater rate than Butler, and Butler competes with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer for boards.
Part of his success is attributable to the speed with which he jumps. Yes, he has a 40-inch vertical, but the apparent thing you see watching him isn’t just how high he gets, but how quickly he arrives at the apex of his jump. He jumps “fast.” This allows him to out-jump bigger players by just getting there faster.
Jimmy Buckets is still young, but he has a lot of room to grow. He has a great attitude and a willingness to learn. Hopefully he’ll hit the gym this summer and shoot thousands of jumpers and work on that aspect of his game.
He needs to improve his shooting, but even without it he’s the best offensive option the Bulls have at shooting guard.
The third moniker attached to Jimmy Butler is “The Butler,” as in, “the Butler did it!” or, “the Butler did it again!”
Much of what Butler does is not just what he does but when he does it. The dunk which led to the Internet-wide “Boshtracizing” of the Miami Heat center wasn’t just a massive dunk, it was a timely dunk. It invigorated the team when they needed invigorating.
Butler routinely comes up big when the moments are big, grabbing a huge rebound, blocking a huge shot, nabbing a big steal or destroying the ego of an opposing center.
While Marco Belinelli has hit some game-winning shots for the Bulls this season, once Rose returns the Bulls aren’t going to be drawing up isolation plays for Belinelli; they’re going to go back to their clutch superstar who's been successful 10 of the last 11 times he was in a game-winning situation.
What they need is a shooting guard who can make the big play without taking over control of the ball, which is exactly what Butler is. His propensity for the big play doesn’t require running plays for him.
Rather, his high basketball IQ is why he so frequently makes big plays with the game on the line. He knows where to be and when to be there.
For a player in his second season, Butler has a remarkable awareness and maturity. While these are admittedly subjective terms, they are supported by things like his knack for getting to the line on offense while abstaining from committing fouls on the defensive end.
The same can be said about his ability to come up with a big play without having a play drawn up for him.
Thibodeau’s consistent reliance on him to guard superstars such as Kobe Bryant when the game is on the line demonstrates his maturity.
Butler has established that he’s the best shooting guard the Bulls have, both offensively and defensively. Once Rose returns, his role should grow to the new starting shooting guard. Taking pressure off Rose on offense and Deng on defense are about the two most compelling reasons to do so.