If this was the same day one year ago, nobody would even know of Jimmy Butler. The young player from Marquette appeared in just 42 games last season, playing an average of 8.5 minutes per game.
Butler's development this year, along with a timely injury of Luol Deng, has given him the opportunity to show off his talent. Aside from Derrick Rose's journey back from injury, Butler's emergence has been one of the biggest stories on the Chicago Bulls.
Key Role Off the Bench
Butler could probably be starting for the Bulls, as he's a much more talented overall player than either Marco Belinelli or Rip Hamilton. He's been starting in place of the injured Belinelli (via CBS Sports), but he will most likely be relegated to a bench role once he comes back for the playoffs.
As one of the Bulls' key bench contributors, Butler's relentless hustle and energy would already give him an advantage over opposing benches in the Eastern Conference.
Unlike J.R. Smith, who's one of the frontrunners for the league's best sixth man, Butler will not attract the attention of defenses as much as the former.
The Bulls' team-oriented offense and spacing will give Butler an easier time to roam the court and score much more efficiently. If Rose comes back, that only means less attention will be drawn toward Butler.
Uncanny Athleticism on the Wing
Butler's athleticism is part of the reason why he's quickly developing into a premier perimeter defender in the league. However, he still possesses the fundamentally sound details and intelligence in his defensive game.
His athleticism is a major reason why he finishes at the rim at a very high rate. According to Hoop Data, Butler finishes an exceptional 71.2 percent of his field goal attempts at the basket. Additionally, 55.9 percent of those field goals are assisted, which illustrates his astounding ability to get open and slash to the rim.
No Set Plays
Although Butler has been contributing at a high level since he's garnered more minutes, the Bulls do not look to him to be the primary scorer or playmaker, which is a blessing in disguise.
Butler makes all his plays and gets all his attempts by working for them himself. There won't be anyone to set two or three screens in a single possession for him, like they do for Belinelli and Hamilton.
He uses his young legs and quick maneuvers to score from interior passes, loose-ball plays and offensive rebounds.
Butler's outside shooting is still questionable, but he's definitely taken strides this year. He's shooting 33 percent from beyond the arc this season, while attempting 1.2 threes a game. When he continues to improve his stroke, he will soon be a reliable floor spacer to open up the paint for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah and create driving lanes for Rose when he returns.
There are many players who could be considered x-factors on their respective teams, but there won't be a bigger x-factor in the playoffs than Butler.