Jimmy Butler's Case as the NBA's 2013-14 Most Improved Player
Butler's Marquette Golden Eagle teams made it to the NCAA Tournament in all three seasons he was there, even reaching the Sweet Sixteen in his final season. Then on June 23, 2011, the Bulls nabbed him with the 30th overall pick.
Still, Bulls fans had no idea what to make of Jimmy Buckets, and his introductory campaign didn't do much help.
His rookie season was a forgettable one. Falling victim to head coach Tom Thibodeau's trend of not playing rookies very often (a lot like Marquis Teague this past season), Butler appeared in only 42 contests in 2011-12.
The difference between that season and the 2012-13 season were night and day.
Butler's production increased with his playing time, as he appeared in all 82 games last season; he even started 20 of those. His long-range shooting, perimeter defense and hard-nosed effort quickly made him a fan favorite.
Now with Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli gone, Coach Thibodeau and the Bulls seem to be committed to inserting Jimmy Butler into the starting lineup next season. Given his increased production when receiving an increase in playing time, one can only assume that he'll make yet another leap.
With the return of Derrick Rose, things will only get easier.
Unlike this past season, Butler will not have to try and create his own shot very often. Rose's drive-and-kick game should get Butler a lot of open looks from the perimeter.
Upped from 38 percent in the regular season to 40 percent in the playoffs, his three-point shooting should only increase due to all the attention that will be paid to D-Rose.
His perimeter defense, coupled with the perimeter defense of Luol Deng, should be a major problem for opponents.
When the Bulls faced off against the Los Angeles Lakers last season in an MLK Day Showdown, Butler got the best of Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba only finished with 16 points on 7-of-22 shooting with Butler checking him most of the night (Deng was out with injury) in a Bulls win.
I think it's very likely that Butler could have career-high numbers across the board next season. His MPG average will probably spike north of 30 in order to rest the injury-prone Deng. With that, I think his PPG average may almost double.
Who will be the third most important Bull on the team next season behind Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah?
I wouldn't be surprised to see Jimmy Buckets average something like 16.4 PPG, 3.0 APG, 4.3 RPG, 1.8 SPG and 0.9 BPG. I also expect his shooting numbers to increase as well. These numbers don't exactly blow you away, but Butler's consistency and defensive effort will shine for the Bulls next season.
All those things, combined with the Bulls grabbing a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference, will catapult Jimmy Butler to the 2013-14 Most Improved Player award.
*All stats courtesy of ESPN.com
Follow me on Twitter @BT_Sanders.
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