This is going to be the season Jimmy Butler completes his transformation from a useful lineup player to an actual borderline superstar for the Chicago Bulls, putting on a wonderful performance in the fourth quarter to lead his team over the Atlanta Hawks in a 85-84 preseason win, including the game winning shot with the buzzer going off.
A Kirk Hinrich inbound pass with the Bulls trailing 84-82 while Butler was coming off the screen, left wide open to finish the game. Just the preseason, and it wasn’t the best of lineups the Hawks have that was on the floor, yet everything we’ve seen from Butler so far in this preseason is pointing toward a real breakout season for a player who slightly disappointed last year, when expectations and focus was on him for the first time.
Butler led the Bulls with 29 points in 31 minutes, getting to the line quite easily (12-of-16), while no one else from the Bulls’ 10-man rotation scored more than 11 points. Doug McDermott started in the lineup while Mike Dunleavy was out of action, as the Bulls continue to play with the 10 or 11 man rotation they’ll be using during the regular season and not using and experimenting with dozens of players won’t wont be anywhere near getting fringe minutes during the regular season.
The Bulls came back from a huge deficit in the fourth, scoring 38 points to the Hawks’ 18 and got a very got performance from Joakim Noah with 7 points and 13 rebounds. Derrick Rose scored 10 points but wasn’t having a very good shooting night, while Pau Gasol had a solid performance in the paint as well with 8 points and 7 rebounds. Doug McDermott had an opportunity to grab some rebounds (9) but was way off on his shooting, scoring just four points on 1-of-5 from the field.
No Dunleavy meant more minutes for Tony Snell, entering his second season in the league. However, despite playing almost half the game it’s unlikely he’ll have a huge part to play initially for the Bulls, sitting behind both Dunleavy and McDermott in the rotation, not to mention Thibodeau having the ability to play with both Butler and Mirotic (probably) in the small forward position if he wants to try the two-point way with both Rose and Hinrich in the same lineup.
So does the preseason mean nothing or something? It’s not just about seeing the things we want to see. A big part of Butler’s need for improvement came in the shooting department and his ability to assert himself on the game. The Bulls already have Rose and Gasol as guys who aren’t afraid to take shots, while McDermott, despite being just a rookie, is used to being a focal point of the offense. Having Butler gain confidence and be able to stretch the floor while adding moves to his offensive moves is almost like adding a whole new player if this becomes a permanent thing.