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Can Jimmy Butler Become Chicago Bulls' Biggest Draft Steal Since Toni Kukoc?

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Can Jimmy Butler Become Chicago Bulls' Biggest Draft Steal Since Toni Kukoc?
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Most fans and experts claim the 2011 NBA draft class is one of the weakest in recent memory. With that said, Marquette forward Jimmy Butler (taken 30th overall by the Chicago Bulls) obviously isn't expected to contribute much, seeing that he wasn't drafted until the final pick of the first round.

But who predicted George Gervin, the 40th overall pick in 1974, would turn into a nine-time NBA All-Star and one of the greatest players in history?

And who really predicted that Manu Ginobili, the 57th overall pick in 1999, would make two All-Star teams and help the San Antonio Spurs win three titles?

I'm not saying that Butler will eventually become a Hall of Famer like Gervin or one of the most well-known players in the league today like Ginobili, but he could wind up being a draft steal sometime down the road.

It's possible that Butler could end up becoming the Bulls' most notable draft steal since Toni Kukoc, the forward who was selected in the second round (29th overall) of the 1990 NBA draft.

Kukoc stuck around Europe for a few years before finally joining the Bulls for the 1993-94 season. The "Croatian Sensation" would earn a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team and was named the league's Sixth Man of the Year in 1996.

In addition, Kukoc was a major contributor on Chicago's three championship teams from 1996 to 1998, which were led by Hall of Famers Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Kukoc helped the Bulls win three straight titles from 1996-1998.

If Butler is to someday emerge as the team's biggest draft steal since Kukoc, he's going to have to surpass a few players that were drafted within the past 10 years or so.

Trenton Hassell is one of those diamonds in the rough. Drafted 29th overall in 2001, the guard from Austin Peay University started a combined 100 games during his two seasons in Chicago and was known as a solid perimeter defender.

Another steal was former Duke point guard Chris Duhon, taken 38th overall in the 2004 draft. He was a starter for 73 games as a rookie and like Hassell earned a reputation for being a standout on the defensive end of the floor.

Then there's current Bulls power forward Taj Gibson. Selected as the 26th overall pick in '09, Gibson was named to the All-Rookie First Team and has helped Chicago advance to the postseason the past two years.

Butler averaged 15.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season for the Golden Eagles. He's not the world's greatest scorer, but he is indeed an outstanding defender, meaning that he should be able to receive minutes in Chicago since Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is a defensive guru.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman believes Butler can guard more than one position on the floor.

"He’s a very, very versatile defender," Forman said. "As we watched him throughout his career at Marquette, he can guard twos, he can guard threes and he can guard fours. And there were even games when they were assigning him to guard the point guard."

Not long after being drafted, Butler made it clear that he wanted to guard two of the most unstoppable players in the league today.

“I'm going to put in the work to be able to guard LeBron (James) and Dwyane Wade and all those guys so the Bulls can get to that championship,” Butler said.

That statement should be just what Bulls fans want to hear.

The high-scoring tandem of James and Wade were two of the main reasons the Miami Heat were able to knock off the Bulls in last season's Eastern Conference Finals.  

Butler will never be capable of shutting down King James or D-Wade—nobody can—but he could one day develop into a first-class role player and help Chicago win titles like Kukoc did in the '90s.

Stay tuned.

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