Why Jimmy Butler Is Legit Candidate for NBA's Most Improved Player Next Season

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Why Jimmy Butler Is Legit Candidate for NBA's Most Improved Player Next Season
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
Is Jimmy Butler a candidate for Most Improved Player?

Jimmy Butler was a main bright spot for the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls. His development occurred on the fast track during the season's latter stages.

Can Butler build off that momentum? Is he now a legit candidate for the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2013-14? There is evidence to suggest he'll be in the running, and it shouldn't be shocking if he snags the hardware.

Let's begin by noting that Butler's recent progression largely happened in the campaign's final two months, including the postseason. While he was downright impressive during this stretch, it was still a pretty small sample size.

Butler needs a full season of such contributions before we label him a young stud or a "Most Improved Player" hopeful. After all, come the regular season's end, his averages were just 8.6 points (on 46.7 percent from the field, 38.1 percent from distance) and 4.0 rebounds in 26.0 minutes per outing. 

Yet, come the playoffs, Butler upped his numbers to 13.3 PPG (43.5 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from distance) and 5.2 RPG, all the while supplying suffocating defense. 

Butler must show that his play late last spring wasn't an aberration. He must prove those strides were legit if he's to become a prime contender for Most Improved Player.

For Butler, consistency will be crucial. He will look to feed off the momentum of the end of the 2012-13 season. Frankly, if he simply replicates his numbers from last March, April and May, he'll then be a stellar contributor in the Bulls rotation.

But we should expect more from "Jimmy Buckets." We should expect his game to advance to even greater heights during the upcoming season. We shouldn't see him merely imitating what he did late last season but expect even further layers of advancement.

There are numerous reasons why this should be anticipated.

First of all, remember Derrick Rose

Rose and Butler have barely played together since Butler logged limited minutes as a rookie in 2011-12, Rose's last active season. They will thus develop chemistry together in the coming months, and we should assume the duo will be productive, potentially even dynamic. 

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Rose should spark newfound refinements in Butler's game. With Rose's ability to penetrate the lane, Butler should find himself with plenty of open jumpers and other scoring opportunities. His confidence, as well as his efficiency, should skyrocket playing alongside one of the best point guards in the league.

Let's just imagine Rose and Butler leading the break, or Rose finding Butler for an open three off a dribble drive. These types of scenarios should become customary. For the first time in Rose's career, he'll be paired with a quality shooting guard, and the results shouldn't disappoint.

Secondly, Butler will embrace a steady starting role throughout 2013-14, and there is really no proven threat behind him. Rookie Tony Snell will be listed beneath him on the depth chart, but coach Tom Thibodeau rarely gives such youngsters frequent minutes.

Plus, Thibodeau fell in love with Butler during the playoffs, rarely allowing him to depart from the floor. Thibs already has a knack for riding his starters, so we should visualize nothing short of this with Butler. He'll likely notch 35-40 minutes per game.

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Thus we can expect Butler to be a featured asset in Chicago's schemes, both offensively and defensively. This means he'll surely have an extended chance to exhibit his skills and demonstrate his importance. He'll have every opportunity to establish himself as a viable candidate for Most Improved Player.

Lastly, we must highlight the natural arc his career should take. He will be just 24 years old in September, and he appears to possess a humble spirit and focus. He likely scratched just the surface of his upside in 2012-13. 

Butler's in an ideal position for the league's Most Improved Player award, perhaps even the front-runner. The presence of Rose, more playing time and the natural development of his game—simply getting some more seasoning should improve his offensive repertoire—should have him playing at an All-Star level in a couple of years.

To paint a clearer picture of what kind of season we might see in 2013-14 from Butler, let's consider last year's Most Improved Player winner, the Indiana Pacers' Paul George.

In 2011-12, the year prior to George notching the award, his numbers were eerily similar to Butler's late season averages from 2012-13:

 

Paul George, 2011-12

MPG FG % 3 PT % RPG PPG
29.7 44.0 38.5 5.6

12.1

 

Now examine what Paul George did this past campaign:

Paul George, 2012-13

MPG FG % 3 PT % RPG PPG
37.6 41.9 36.2 7.6 17.4

 

It may seem premature to suggest that Butler will become as good as George, since George became a bona fide star during his breakout 2012-13 season.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

However, it's not that outlandish when one takes into account the style similarities of the two players. Defensively, Butler already models George with his length and quickness. Offensively, they both attack the rim and shoot threes with similar precision.

Butler's scoring and assist output will almost surely be less than George since he's more of a complementary weapon in Chicago's offense. George is Indiana's "alpha dog." With that said, Butler figures to compile more efficient numbers.

At any rate, predicting Butler's 2013-14 to mimic, at least in certain facets, George's 2012-13 is not unreasonable. A realistic stat line for Butler in the upcoming 82 games is as follows:

 

Jimmy Butler, Predicted 2013-14

MPG FG % 3 PT % RPG PPG
37.1 45.3 40.2 5.8 15.3

 

Butler's emergence has already raised eyebrows throughout the NBA, but the 2013-14 season could serve as his breakout campaign. He might not only gain wider attention for his individual exploits, but an emerging Butler could also vault the Bulls to 60-plus wins and a trip to the NBA finals.

The story is shaping up nicely for the Most Improved Player honor heading Butler's way. The table has been set with Rose's return and a heavier role coming Butler's direction. If he executes properly and stays healthy, then his name should be regularly mentioned in Most Improved Player discussions.

 

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