What a difference a year makes.
Entering training camp last season, Jimmy Butler was almost an afterthought as he had shown flashes during his rookie season of being a tough perimeter defender, but he was still unproven.
“He’s put a lot of work in this summer but playing time is going to be based on performance,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau when asked about Butler on the second day of training camp last season. “I thought he got to the free throw line very efficiently [during Summer League]. He didn’t shoot as high as a percentage as we would’ve liked and his defense was up and down so he’s got to be consistent. We have to be able to count on him every night but we love the way he worked all summer. His attitude and approach are excellent and he has to keep doing that.”
That attitude and approach helped Butler become a key contributor last season when the opportunity presented itself. His production, versatility and promise puts him in an entirely different position heading into this season. He will start in the backcourt alongside Derrick Rose, making him the most athletic option Rose has had in his career with the Bulls.
The work put in by the third-year player out of Marquette has his coach now singing his praises, even if he still believes that he is “under the radar.”
“He’s improved. He’s not one of those guys that talks about it,” Thibodeau said. “I know he’s had a great summer, but Jimmy puts the work in each day. He doesn’t have to say anything and you look at his actions, they’re telling you what he’s doing. There’s no shortcuts with him. He puts the work in and gives you a solid day’s work each and every day.”
Like every young player that gets drafted to a playoff and championship contender, where minutes are at a premium, Butler wanted to prove himself to his veteran teammates and the coaching staff. Averaging 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and shooting 38 percent from 3 – a testament to the work he put in having shot 18 percent the season before.
“[It was] a learning curve,” Butler said. “I learned a lot about the game and how much you have to take care of your body – going from playing minimal minutes. I also learned be careful what you asked for because that’s what I asked for; I asked to play. I don’t want to come out the game and then it’s like you asked for too much, more than what you can bite off. But it was fun. My confidence definitely got higher. My belief that I can do things definitely showed.”
The Rose/Butler pairing is sure to produce a few highlight-worthy plays also, which should lead to a lot more easier baskets for a team that ranked No. 24 in offensive efficiency last season – after ranking No. 5 the season before – and relied on heroics from Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli.
“We can give people hell out there on the court,” Rose said of him and Butler in the backcourt. “He’s a guy where he has the same mentality like I have.
“I think his biggest adjustment is going to be just feeling comfortable, knowing that he can take shots and make decisions – even dribble the ball up the floor. That’s going to help us out a lot.”