Before we go any further, I feel that I should make sure you all know how much I love Jimmy Butler. My love for Jimmy rivals even my love for Derrick Rose, which is saying something. So if you’re expecting me to excoriate Jimmy for his failings, you’re in the wrong place.
That said, I am willing to acknowledge his shortcomings. The fact is that Jimmy’s shooting percentages are borderline horrific this year. 39.2 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from three ain’t gonna get the job done. His jumper seems to have abandoned him right around the time that he returned from his turf toe injury in December, along with a decent portion of his ability to finish at the rim. My theory is that the turf toe lingered for a while after he came back and robbed him of his lift, which compromised his finishing ability and threw off his jumper.
If that’s the case, I think a summer off should give him the chance to find his rhythm again and get back to the version of him that shot 38 percent from three in 2012-13. But we’ll see.
Of course, that doesn’t help much for this year. This year, the Bulls desperately need Jimmy to have a chance to win. He is by FAR the best perimeter defender on the team — though obviously that gap will shrink somewhat if the Bulls do indeed sign Ronnie Brewer, as has been rumored — and his ability and willingness to step into Luol Deng’s role has been a major factor in the Bulls’ surge since the beginning of 2014. Not only that, but Jimmy’s had to step up as a secondary ball-handler on offense without Deng around, since Mike Dunleavy isn’t much of one and Tony Snell isn’t really ready for extended minutes yet. Since the Deng trade, the Bulls are 5.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when Jimmy plays and 0.2 points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents when he sits. In that time frame, the Bulls get outscored per 100 possessions when Jimmy sits and when Joakim Noah sits. That’s it.
So, the dilemma mentioned in the headline is simple: The Bulls are relying heavily on a guy who really can’t shoot — though he is shooting 43.3 percent from the corners, which is something, at least — on a team full of guys who can’t shoot, going into a potential second-round showdown against two of the best defenses in the league in Miami and Indiana. And that assumes they even get out of the first round, which is far from a given. Right now, the Bulls would face the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, who pushed the Bulls to seven games last year and are operating at a borderline championship level since the beginning of 2014. They have the league’s 11th best offense and the 10th best defense in that span, so let’s not pretend that the Bulls will have it easy.
So what can they do about it? Not a whole hell of a lot. The fact is that they need Jimmy to be successful. But there are some subtle things that should help. I hated Tom Thibodeau’s insistence on playing Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich together to start the season — and the numbers bore me out on that, just for the record — but Kirk’s been playing much better since the new year, and as such the Bulls have had quite a bit of success playing DJ Augustin and Kirk together. In fact, the Bulls preferred closing lineup of DJ, Kirk, Jimmy, Taj Gibson and Noah is lighting people up since Deng was traded. They’re scoring 109.8 points per 100 and giving up 91.2, for a net rating of +18.6. That’s pretty good.
It’s not hard to puzzle out why, either. DJ is the playmaker/penetrator the Bulls don’t otherwise have, Kirk provides shooting and acts as a secondary ballhandler, Jimmy fills in wherever he’s needed without shouldering too much of a burden, and Taj and Noah do their thing. So while Jimmy hasn’t been able to hit anything this year, it seems like having success with him comes down as much to context as much as anything.
So while we will hope that Jimmy remembers how to shoot, maybe it’s not the end of the world?
(If the Bulls lose at some point because Jimmy missed too many shots or something, forget I wrote this.)