If there is a silver lining behind the cloud of Derrick Rose's failure to return last season, it is the breakout showing by Jimmy Butler, who played particularly well after the All-Star break. The Bulls found the starting shooting guard they were searching for on their bench, and now he and Rose will make one another even better.
The truly exciting thing is how their individual skill sets complement one another. The pair could lead Chicago past the Miami Heat to win their first NBA title since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were running with the Bulls.
Rose’s Passing, Butler’s Three-Point Shooting and the Chicago Bulls Winning
The biggest struggle the Bulls have had over the last three years has been finding a shooting guard who can both shoot and guard. Butler has been well-respected for the latter, but last season was a pleasant surprise for the former.
The most exciting thing about Butler’s breakout was his three-point shooting. After the All-Star break, Butler shot .449 from deep, and as the starting shooting guard, he was a beastly .528. Include the games he played shooting guard during the postseason, and that number climbs to .551.
Admittedly, it is only a 19-game sample size, but it seems plausible that he could make more than 40 percent of his attempts this year. That would be just a marginal bump from last season’s 38.1 percent.
Considering where Butler’s strength lies as a shooter, and how Rose can augment that, it’s an even safer bet.
Namely, Rose has a fantastic ability to set up his teammates for open threes, and Butler is otherworldly from deep when he is open.
Here are the three-point percentages of the five players who attempted at least 25 three-point shots while Rose was on the court with them. Notice how every one of them shoots better while playing with Rose.
|C. J. Watson||52.9||37.5||15.5|
*The astute reader may realize that 2. 7 is not an average of the five numbers above it. This is because the percentages used in the overall row are not the averages of the percentages of the five players, but rather is based on the total threes attempted and made by the players in question. Since Korver was the least impacted and took the most shots, he brings the overall number down.
So is that just a coincidence or does it have something to do with the way Rose plays?
To answer that, first look at what Rose does to set up the three for Luol Deng in this clip.
When Rose drives into the lane, it causes the entire defense to collapse.
Look at the still shot. See how the defenders mass around Rose, leaving both of his three-point shooters wide open? It’s not hard to understand from pictures like this that Rose opens his teammates for the deep ball.
If you’re looking for statistical evidence to back that up, this pie chart shows Rose’s involvement in Bulls three-point makes while he is on the court.
In all, 70 percent of three-pointers made by the Bulls while Rose was on the court were either made or assisted by Rose. Furthermore, 59.5 percent of threes made by his teammates come off Rose’s passes.
So how well will that work with Butler?
I went back and watched all of Butler’s three-point attempts after the break. He was highly proficient when he had time to hit the shot. While making only nine of 27 contested threes, he was 20 of 32 on uncontested threes, a blazing percentage of .625. (There were two half-court attempts to beat the buzzer I did not count).
While this is too small a sample size to project a .500 three-point percentage for him next year, it is enough to establish the trend that he is far more effective from deep when he has time to take the shot.
With Rose’s talent for creating just that opportunity, the idea of Butler averaging around 1.5 threes per game and hitting 40 percent of his attempts seems pretty reasonable.
The flip side of this is on Rose’s end and how he benefits from Butler’s ability to knock down the trey. Rose has had very little help from the starting shooting guard during the Tom Thibodeau era.
The various starters have made at least one three-pointer 74 times in 120 starts, and the Bulls were 61-13 in those games. When making only two from deep, the Bulls were 27-2. In games where Rose assisted on at least two of those makes, they were 17-0.
These numbers are remarkable in two senses. First, it is notable that Rose's teammates were unable to reach such a seemingly attainable rate of makes. Bogans' 1.1 threes per game, the best Rose has gotten from his partner in the backcourt, is only 182nd among guards over the last three years.
Second, it is remarkable how successful the Bulls are when they get even marginal production from the shooting guard. Imagine what they could accomplish with consistent production!
They don’t need Kobe Bryant as their shooting guard, they just need competence, and Butler gives them more than that.
That helps the Bulls, and it helps Rose.
When he gets even average production from his shooting guard, it has a big impact on his passing numbers. In the 17 games he assisted his starting shooting guard for at least two threes, he averaged 10.4 assists. As productive as he was passing, his scoring hardly took a hit, as he averaged 24.0 points with a .545 true shooting percentage.
Although optimistic, it’s not impossible to think that Rose could become just the fourth player in history to average 24 points and 10 assists per game for a season. That’s a feat that is all the more remarkable when you factor in that the previous three players to do it played on teams which attempted roughly 30 percent more field goals than the Bulls project to take this year.
With Rose able to set the three-point table for Butler, and with Butler able to knock down the shots, both should see a nice bump in their stats. Correspondingly, the Bulls should see a nice bump in their record.
Jimmy Butler’s Alfred to Derrick Rose’s Batman
If you want to go pure Dark Knight analogy here, before he got a sidekick in Robin, Batman had a butler that helped him out.
You see where I’m going with this right?
A legend has been told about how LeBron James “shut down” Derrick Rose in the fourth quarter of the playoff series between the Heat and Bulls in 2011. Frankly, that’s been exaggerated beyond the point of recognition.
That's what makes it a legend.
Truthfully, there were only two plays in the series where James was guarding Rose in the final minute of a close game. In both cases, it was as much a case of Rose just missing a shot as it was of James doing some kind of superb job of guarding Rose. Here they are, less than a minute apart.
And for those that say that Rose can’t beat James in the clutch, there is this.
That’s not to say that Rose made the smartest play or took the best shots; it’s just to say that the whole, “Chicago-needs-a-second-shot-creator-to-get-past-Miami” argument might be overreaching just a smidgen. That doesn’t mean that there’s no truth behind the legend, though.
Most legends begin with an element of reality.
What’s more accurate than reducing an entire season or team’s chances of winning to two plays is to broaden the scope of the argument. Why did Rose really struggle in the postseason if it wasn’t because of James playing shut-down defense in the fourth quarter?
During the regular season, Rose had a usage percentage of 32.2 and an assist percentage of 38.7. According to Basketball-Reference, only three other players have done that, and of those, only James took his team to the conference finals.
During the postseason, Rose upped his usage percentage to 35.2 percent and his assist percentage to 40 percent. None of the other three players accomplished that.
In fact, only four players in NBA history have borne that much responsibility in the playoffs for their team, and of them only Rose made it out of the first round. You can argue that no player has ever shouldered as much offensive burden as Rose has for the Bulls. Even if you argue with how well he carried it, he did carry it.
The Bulls don’t need a player who can create so they can solve the “LeBron James problem.” They need one so Rose won't be utterly exhausted in the postseason.
The reason the distinction between the two arguments is crucial is because it’s the difference between tweaking and overhauling the team. If the issue in the 2011 playoffs really was that the Bulls needed another superstar, they need to make a major trade.
If the issue really was that Rose needed even marginal help from his shooting guard, then they have already solved the problem with Butler.
So is there anything to suggest that he was really just getting fatigued? Look at Rose’s splits before and after the All-Star game in 2011, and you can see that fatigue was setting in before the postseason started.
While the scoring is slightly up, the other numbers suggest he was tired going into the playoffs. Particularly see the decline in his shooting percentages, indicating dead legs.
Having a starting shooting guard who created just 35 points the entire season probably wasn’t helpful to that end.
I repeat, the Bulls don’t need Kobe Bryant here; they just need competence. Butler gives them more than enough. Last season, he created 317 points. Of his 239 field goals, 73 were unassisted, three of them being three-pointers. That accounts for 149 points.
The rest of his created points came off of free throws, an area in which Butler is extremely proficient. Last season he averaged .455 free throws per field-goal attempt.
When you look at the games where Butler started at shooting guard, he got to the line at an even greater rate of .559. According to Draft Express, this is nothing new. He was second in free-throw rate for his draft class.
Once he got to the line last season, he made teams pay, knocking down his freebies at a clip of 80.3 percent.
Butler might not bring you 20 points a game, but he does bring you efficiency.
His effective field-goal percentage was .505. There are only two players in the league who had a higher free-throw rate, effective field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage than Butler last year—James Harden and Kevin Durant.
Of course that is no way meant to suggest that Butler is on the level of Harden or Durant, but it does indicate that he’s at least competent.
In this season alone, Butler created almost 30 percent more points than Hamilton and Bogans did combined in their entire Bulls tenure. And, for all the discussion over how much the Bulls need Marco Belinelli’s ability to create, Butler actually created 38 more points than Belinelli did in 2012.
Butler is not going to lead the league in scoring, but he is sufficient to take some of the burden for carrying the offense off the shoulders of Rose. He’s not Batman, but he is a good Alfred.
In turn, while Butler is a good player to alleviate the pressure off the main shot creator, he’s better as a second option. Last year, when he was on the court with the Bulls' best creator, Nate Robinson, his effective field-goal percentage was 54.2 percent. That's compared to just 46 percent when he was alone.
He drew free throws at a rate .476 with Robinson. Compare that to .433 when the little man sat.
It’s safe to speculate that Rose will be able to at least duplicate Robinson’s impact. Rose should help Butler to perform more efficiently, while Butler should be able to help Rose carry the offensive load.
The Fast Break
Last season when the Bulls ran the break, it looked more like a slow broke. They were just 23rd in the league with only 10.2 points per game, per NBA.com/STATS (subscription required).
The problem is they've had Rose or Butler, but never Rose and Butler. So much of transition is about having players who can run the court together.
What other team owns a guard tandem with 39-inch verticals and the kind of speed Butler and Rose possess? According to Draft Express’s combine database, only 11 first-round picks in NBA history have recorded 3:15 or better in the three-quarter-court sprint while measuring at least a 39 inch vertical. Two of those players are Rose and Butler
If you want perspective, John Wall scored a 3:14 on the sprint test, just barely better than Butler’s 3:15. Both measured the same 39" vertical. Rose recorded a 3:05 and 40" respectively.
Data from Synergy (subscription required) shows that Rose scored 40 percent of Chicago’s transition points by himself in 2011. It also shows that Butler was their most efficient player in transition this year, notching 1.24 points per play.
They don’t just have the physical tools, they have delivered together just fine.
The Bulls have had a complete frontcourt with Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Now they have a complete backcourt as well. Bulls fans finally get to see Rose’s “chocolate” and Butler’s “peanut butter” together—and it is going to taste great.
It might even taste like a championship.
If not otherwise indicated the stats used in this article were obtained through original research. Splits were obtained from media.nba.com/Stats (subscription required). Basketball-Reference.com provided box scores and game logs.
If not otherwise stipulated the stats regarding Derrick Rose and his teammates, including the on/off stats include both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.