For some the preseason in the NBA (and other sports) means nothing. For others, it’s an excellent way to tell how far of a progress certain players have made. Jimmy Butler for example on the Chicago Bulls. He was touted as a big break out star before last season began. Maybe it’s time it actually happens.
After a weak start to his preseason that involved a lot of fighting with Washington Wizards players, Butler is averaging 19 points per game through the next three games, including 21 in a 110-90 win over the Denver Nuggets. He’s shooting 74% from the field during that three game stretch, without forgetting to mention his ability to make life a living hell for the players he’s guarding on defense, which is usually the more dangerous between the shooting guard and the small forward.
We picked Butler to be one of the top 5 shooting guards in the NBA before last season began. That didn’t exactly pan out. Derrick Rose got injured, the Bulls didn’t really heavily rely on the converted small forward and Butler himself playing with a toe problem for most of the season. He ended up averaging 13.1 points while shooting 39.7% from the field. He improved his totals from the previous year, but it wasn’t the kind of performance he was expecting, and neither were the Bulls.
Another season begins with great optimism, although a very cautious one. Pau Gasol has joined the make the frontline even more formidable. Doug McDermott isn’t going to be an All-American type player in the NBA, but he can be a very useful one when it comes to stretching the floor, something the Bulls had problems with last season. The same goes for Nikola Mirotic who has been very up and down in the preseason so far.
Derrick Rose being healthy for the time being is probably the biggest of all reasons to feel good about what’s going on. But that’s a mirage, or might become one at any moment. It was that way last preseason. Then Rose tore his meniscus, and the high hopes for winning a championship evaporated, disappearing into the night. The Bulls still made the playoffs, but once again the talk was about what could have been.
Is Butler the next Scottie Pippen? There are some similarities. Pippen didn’t dominate from day 1, needing a few years to develop next to Michael Jordan before turning into one of the best small forwards of all time. Both are/were exceptional defenders, although Butler needs a bit more recognition in that department. He’s also a bit more hands on than Pippen, who at his best did it with a bit more grace. But the Bulls have a gem in Butler and they know it. This season, he has all the conditions set for him to take the real next step along with a team that’s hoping to blow up before it’s too late.