The emergence of Chicago Bulls second-year guard/forward Jimmy Butler as a major contributor has caught most fans and analysts off guard.
But for those who were paying attention, it should come as no surprise.
Right after the injury-riddled Bulls were bounced in the first round by Philadelphia, Butler began preparing to take on a larger role this season. After a short trip home to Texas, Butler returned to Chicago and basically locked himself in the Berto Center.
"At the end of the day, this is my job and this is where I want to be," said Butler (via Bulls.com). "I love basketball, I love this team, and I love this organization. I want to get better and I want to help. Therefore, I want to work out every day in the summer."
His first chance to show the improvements was in the 2012 NBA Summer League and Butler did just that, averaging 20.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 2.0 APG.
Butler's outstanding play in the Summer League didn't go unnoticed, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau didn't hesitate to insert him into the starting lineup when two-time All-Star Loul Deng went down due to injury.
While his teammates and coaching staff have always had confidence in him, the masses began to take note of Butler once he threw the clamps on Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant. Playing a team-high 43 minutes, Butler helped hold Bryant to 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting.
"It's what I hang my hat on," Butler said when asked about his ability on the defensive end. "I take a lot of pride in being able to contain the other team's primary or secondary scorers. Whoever I'm lined up against, I want to make it hard for them—every breath, every dribble, every shot."
Butler handled another tough assignment well last night, as he and Deng forced New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony to go 13-of-34 in an overtime victory last night, ending another win streak at the United Center.
Butler's increased contributions have led to many speculations as to what the Bulls will do going forward.
One option would be to trade Deng for a legitimate second scorer and place Butler at small forward, but with Deng's contract expiring at the end of next season, management may choose to wait and see if he will take a pay cut to remain a Bull.
The best thing to do would be to start Butler at the 2. Rip Hamilton has a team option on his contract next year which most likely won't be picked up, and swingman Marco Belinelli is only signed through this season.
The departure of the two would open a spot for Butler in the starting lineup and teaming him with Deng would give the Bulls two premiere wing defenders on the court at the same time.
Whatever the Bulls decide to do, one thing is certain: Butler will do his part.
"I've never been one to settle. I just want to keep getting better and better—every game, every practice, every year. So day in and day out, I'll still put in extra work because there is always somebody out there who is trying to have what you have and wants to be better than you (via Bulls.com)."