The most promising aspect of the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls season was the development of 23-year-old Jimmy Butler. The strides he made in his second season were eye-popping, so much so that his growing impact has significant implications going forward.
Come 2013-14, he’ll almost surely remain a core contributor on the wing, perhaps even snagging the starting 2-guard position. With a healthy roster, he won’t net the hefty minutes he logged during the postseason, but he’ll definitely be a major factor.
Butler’s surprisingly quick trajectory certainly creates optimism for the Bulls entering next season. This is evident in numerous ways.
No Need for a Shooting Guard Upgrade
Butler’s emergence makes it apparent that a featured free-agent shooting guard should not be targeted this summer. Butler is more than capable of functioning as a starter. This is absolutely the case on the defensive end, and his offensive skills are improving at a remarkable rate.
For instance, in the postseason, he averaged 13.3 points per game while shooting 40.5 percent from three-point range. This adequate offensive production coupled with his suffocating defense situates him as a quality starter.
Also, keep in mind that Butler will play for slightly over $1 million next campaign. His rookie contract is already a bargain.
With this in view, the Bulls should steer clear of free agents such as O.J. Mayo, J.J. Redick or Kevin Martin. These individuals would command more offensive attention than Butler, but they’re not defensive stalwarts. While the Bulls would gain some extra points from such assets, they would also give up some extra points.
More importantly, such signings will come with a steep price tag and in turn inhibit Chicago's future financial flexibility.
In the end, a free-agent acquisition up this alley is unjustifiable—from a basketball and financial standpoint. None of these players will produce convincingly better than Butler on both ends of the floor, and they'll only strain Chicago's bank account. Such a maneuver would simply be illogical.
Therefore, Butler’s development means the Bulls should sense no urgency in finding a new shooting guard. Butler’s silenced this need—at least for the time being.
They are Contenders with Him
Butler's all-around versatility shows that Chicago can contend with him.
He may never be an elite offensive player, but is that type of potent 2-guard necessary for the Bulls as potential contenders? Adding a player who can score 20 PPG would surely be nice, but it isn’t a must because of Chicago’s style of play.
The Bulls grind out victories, often holding teams under 90 points. If Butler and Deng are both healthy on the wing, Chicago will arguably have the best perimeter defense in the league. This will be distinctly valuable against the Miami Heat, as Butler and Deng can effectively limit LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
The Bulls should thus plainly see that they’re in title contention with Butler in the lineup. Truthfully, the question shouldn’t center on Butler. The concern is if they’ll be healthy, because their playoff hopes have been derailed for two straight seasons due to injuries.
Remember, just two seasons ago, the Bulls reached the Eastern Conference Finals with Keith Bogans as their starting shooting guard. Butler is an unquestionable upgrade from Bogans. If they were a top-notch team with Bogans, they certainly will be with Butler.
In fact, a healthy Chicago team will likely be the Heat’s biggest threat in the years to come.
What if He has Only Scratched the Surface of His Potential?
Another storyline from Butler's breakout past few months is how high his ceiling is. Maybe he's only scratching the surface of how great he will become. Perhaps his offensive abilities will continue their ascent.
This is quite possible. The steps Butler took in such a short amount of time were beyond promising. They were so impressive that it's reasonable to wonder if he's a budding All-Star. His last few months of 2012-13 proclaim this.
|Month||FG %||3-PT %||RPG||PPG|
|February||40.5 %||27.8 %||3.6||7.2|
|March||41.7 %||41.9 %||4.3||10.4|
|April||48.1 %||56.0 %||6.6||14.6|
|*Playoffs||43.5 %||40.5 %||5.2||13.3|
Early in the season, his three-point shot was iffy at best. Now, he appears like he can consistently shoot the long ball at a 40 percent rate. He was amazingly accurate in the month of April, and he remained steady with it throughout the playoffs.
Furthermore, his penetration ability and knack for absorbing contact and still finishing near the rim amplify the numerous dimensions to his game. If all these things continue their progressions, he could soon become a 15-17 PPG player who also supplies First-Team All-NBA-caliber defense. This combination could soon land him on the All-Star squad.
This is something to monitor next season. There's a good chance we've only witnessed the tip of the iceberg in Butler's rise.
If he continues to raise eyebrows in such a fashion, then the Bulls aren't just a decent Eastern Conference team. They become a team who could potentially win 65 regular-season games and pose problems for anybody in the playoffs. They'll be that scary if he proves that he only scratched the surface of his potential in 2012-13.
The bottom line is that Butler's development means heightened promise for the Bulls. Despite a second straight playoffs filled with injuries, Butler solidified himself as a key element to the future.
In this process, he has shown a few things: 1) they don't need an upgrade at the 2-spot; 2) they can contend with him; and 3) they are downright scary if he keeps getting better.
Perhaps Chicago returns at full strength in 2013-14 and steamrolls its way to a championship. If that happens, Butler will be in the thick of the journey.