The third-year swingman broke out last season, showing his ability to play lockdown defense and contribute on offense in a variety of ways. He shot well from beyond the arc and was able to create for himself when the matchup favored him.
A toe injury has prevented him from showcasing any improvements made over the summer, but prior to the injury, Butler was finally starting to get into rhythm; he shot 60 percent from downtown in the four games before the injury.
Once he returns to action, Butler will have to be one of Chicago's main options and prove he can be a building block in the Bulls' future. The roster could go through major changes next summer, and the Marquette product will play a big role in what management decides to do with Luol Deng.
Butler will have some big shoes to fill if Deng is no longer on the team.
Defensively, Butler is already excellent. He can mirror his assignment's moves extremely well, and his length and quickness help him break up passes. During his only nine games of the season, he's allowed just 0.66 points per play and held opposing players to 32 percent shooting, according to Synergy.
It's on offense that he has to take a step forward. From his jump shot to his one-on-one game to his post-up game, the 24-year-old has to become a real threat.
So, how can the Bulls' rising star make another leap?
Butler doesn't have to be a 20-plus-point scorer every night, but he does have to become a consistent scoring option, and it starts with his jump shot.
So far this year, Butler has shot 43.5 percent from the field, a number that just won't cut it if he's going to be a featured player in the future. The main reason for his low percentage is that he often settles for long attempts even though he's not a great jump-shooter yet.
According to Basketball-Reference, Butler shot 34 percent on shots from 10 feet to just inside the three-point line. This year, while it's a smaller sample size, he hasn't been much better. According to NBA.com, on 20 shot attempts between eight feet and the three-point line, Butler made just six shots.
At the tail end of the 2012-13 season, Butler started to catch fire, shooting 45 percent from the field and and making 47.5 percent of his threes after the All-Star break. While he may not shoot that well from deep over the course of a full season, he has to shoot around 40 percent in order to really be effective.
If Rose fully recovers from his torn meniscus, Butler will have to spread the floor and knock down threes.
It's not just his shot that Butler must to work on, though; he also has to learn to create off the dribble.
Butler's isolations typically end one of two ways: A drive to the basket, which is good, or with him holding the ball for too long and forcing up a three or long two.
The best way to fix this is by working on his ball-handling. Butler has the speed and quickness to to take defenders off the bounce, but he hasn't displayed a good set of isolation moves.
Out of a triple-threat position, he struggles to drive past defenders because he can't—or at least hasn't shown he can—consistently string together hesitation or crossover moves to gain space or create a driving lane.
One of Butler's go-to isolation moves is his step-back jumper. The problem is that since he's still not a very good mid-range shooter, it often results in a miss.
With D-Rose out for the remainder of the season, the Bulls will run the offense through a couple of their players, Butler possibly being one of them. He'll have a chance to work on his offense the entire year, and he has to show significant improvement in order to help the Bulls in the near future.
There is one area where Butler has shown a lot of promise, and if he can continue building on that, he could become a very dangerous offensive weapon.
Jimmy Butler has shown flashes of a post game. He doesn't have a turnaround shot or hook shot out of the post, but he does a great job of getting in the paint through a series of dribbles and hop steps.
It can take a while for a player to improve his jump shot or his ball-handling, but a player's size, strength and quickness generally remain the same. This is where Butler can use his natural talent to his advantage.
Butler usually has great position when he receives the ball on the block. With just one or two dribbles, he can hop inside the paint and get a good look at the basket. There's a lot of room for improvement, as he'll need to develop a step-back jumper or fadeaway to keep defenders honest, but this could be a good route to go with Butler.
Deng has been posting up more this season—13 percent of the time, according to Synergy. On 32 shot attempts from the post, Deng has hit 15. He ranks 13th in the league with 0.98 points per post-up play.
If Butler has to fill Deng's role next year, he'll have to further develop his post game. Not only does it give Chicago another scoring option, but it could make Butler's progression as a scorer a bit smoother since he'll have easier looks.
Chicago's had some bad luck with injuries, but if anything good can be taken away, it's that this year will give players a chance to break through and showcase their potential. Butler quickly became an X-factor for the Bulls last year, and this year he'll have the opportunity to be a featured player.
The Bulls could be a completely different team next year. Deng's contract extension is up in the air, and there is a legitimate chance Carlos Boozer gets amnestied due to the immense amount of money he's owed next season.
With change on the horizon, Butler is the one player who has to step up and show that he can be a mainstay for Chicago.
Note: Stats are accurate as of Dec. 12, 2013.
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