Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler Establishing Himself As Team’s Best Player

In years past, Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler never believed he was the best player on the roster. In fact, around this time last season, Butler stated that he didn’t view himself as an All-Star. Instead, he saw himself as a good role player on a good team.

Of course, Butler went on to have the best season of his career in a Bulls uniform. And as a result of his meteoric rise to becoming one of the best two-way guards in the league, the Bulls rewarded him with a multi-year contract.

Fast forward to the present, and it is easy to see that Butler is anything but a role player. For example, he leads the Bulls in scoring for the second straight season with 20.4 points per contest and he is first on the team in minutes played per contest (36.4).

In addition to that, Butler leads the team in steals (1.8); he ranks third in assists (3.0) and is fifth in rebounding (5.2). In other words, Butler is getting the job done at both ends of the floor.

While Butler’s numbers are impressive, he understands there is more that goes into being a great player besides statistics. This is why Butler expressed that he wanted to take on more of a leadership role prior to the season in an interview with Sam Smith of NBA.com:

“We’ve got guys who can score, guys who can facilitate, guys who can rebound, guys who can shoot, guys who can drive. We need a guy who is going to step in and be that vocal guy in this locker room, on the practice court, in the game. And I think that’s what I’m going to have to be,” said Butler. “I’m growing in this league. I’m here four years now. I have to take another leap forward. I think that’s going to be on the leadership side. Not just on the court.”

“We have a couple of guys quiet by nature. There’s nothing wrong with that. Guys lead with their emotions if it’s Jo (Noah), with their play if it’s Derrick (Rose), Pau (Gasol). He’s been around winning teams. You need a guy who’s going hard every night and backs up what he is talking about. I definitely think it is going to be me.”

One of the qualities of a leader is a player who isn’t afraid to take over in the waning moments of a tight game. And during Chicago’s 103-97 win over the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 18, Butler rose to the occasion in several areas.

Case in point, not only did Butler play 43 minutes, he also took it upon himself to guard the Suns’ top two scorers in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Although they scored 21 and 23 points respectively, they also committed a total of seven turnovers and shot a combined 15-for-42 from the field, which equates to a 36 percent conversion rate. That is what you call making someone work for everything they get.

And going into the fourth quarter of that contest — with the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead — Butler played the entire frame, scoring 14 of his season-high 32 points. Whether it was a left-handed layup; a contested step-back jumper or a three-pointer from the right corner to help put the game out of reach, Butler delivered big baskets for the Bulls time and time again. Here is what Fred Hoiberg said about Butler’s performance, via ESPN:

“He was phenomenal. He just took the game over. Offense, defense, he was guarding the best player. I tried to take him out — he wouldn’t let me. He did it all for us in that fourth quarter. … It was almost like his energy went up as the game went on in that fourth quarter. That’s what big-time performers do. They step up when you need it most, and that’s certainly what Jimmy did tonight.”

With Derrick Rose nursing a sprained ankle and Nikola Mirotic struggling the past three contests (19 points combined on 6-for-22 shooting), Butler knew he would have to shoulder most of the scoring load in order to help the Bulls notch their fourth straight win. And that is exactly what he did.

While Rose is a former MVP who has contributed a lot to the team when he is healthy, it is safe to say that Butler has now established himself as the best player and leader of a team that believes it can compete for a title.