Jimmy Butler stepped up to give the Bulls career best games in Luol Deng's absence and even played some time at the two in his return. He's played well enough that the Bulls must feel confident in him as a future significant minute rotation player, the question is figuring out what role that is.
Defensively, Butler can certainly come in as the SG defensive stopper. Whether or not he can find consistent offense there remains to be seen. Given that he can't consistently knock down threes, he may shrink the spacing on the court considerably playing there. Whether Butler can improve his shot will go a long way in determining whether or not he can play a SG role for the Bulls.
You'd like to see the Bulls with a two guard that can create/shoot next to Derrick, but at the minimum, Butler appears more than capable of bringing everything to the table that Ronnie Brewer brought the past two seasons which means in the worst case scenario he's in the rotation as the defensive stopper.
As a three, his shooting theoretically matters less, but only if the Bulls play him next to a two that can shoot really well, and they don't really have that either. In the end, you need at least one player on the floor to be deadly beyond the arc or several players who are at least good in order to provide some spacing or punish teams for not staying home.
While SG has become the position Bulls fans want to fill, and Butler has looked like a greatly improved player who can play SG, I'm not sure those things add up to solving our problems as it still leaves the holes in shot creation/three point shooting. That said, next season with Hinrich as the only other guy on the roster likely to return who can play the two [and minimal money to spend], Butler may have plenty of opportunity there next season.
What might really make sense though is using Jimmy Butler as the answer to the Deng dilemma. In 2014, Luol Deng will need a new contract and Chicago will have to decide whether to reup with him or not. He'll likely demand 12+ million a year for his playing years aged 29-32. Deng has a very high probability of being significantly overpaid over that next contract. Hell, we've spent much of this contract thinking he was overpaid in his prime.
Take a look at what SFs typically do at 29-32 vs 25-28. I went through and added up all the major ones I could think of off the top of my head:
|Player||PER 25-28||PER 29-32||Change|
|Gerald Wallace (1.5years)||17.65||14.85||-2.8|
A few caveats. Tracy McGrady and Manu Ginobili are massive outliers. McGrady completely fell of the map, and Ginobili entered the league at 25 so spent two years adjusting to the NBA and saw massive improvement over those first couple seasons. It's also clear that many players fell off due to injury, team changes or a variety of reasons.
However, when we look at Deng's injury history, it seems clear that we should not expect a healthy 29-32. He's missed 10+ games in more than half of his seasons so far, has a torn ligament in his wrist that he may not heal, and had a series of lower body injuries that tend to become indicators of chronic problems (though he's recovered from those to not have problems the past couple years, so maybe not).
It's certainly not a given that Deng will struggle with health over his next contract, but if he does then you'll look back at the early part of his prime and say 'no duh'. He's clearly a higher risk player than many other guys.
Also, PER doesn't encapsulate Deng's game well, but I think it's fair to say that with Deng there's a very real possibility you'd get the SF version of Kirk Hinrich right now. A guy who's fundamentally strong defensively but isn't disruptive and not as quick as he used to be so is more prone to blow bys. A guy who makes the right decision offensively, but has lost what little shot creation he used to have.
In short, Luol Deng probably gets 4/48 on his next deal assuming he has a solid year next season, and the last two years of that deal have a pretty good shot at making us feel like we do about the last two years of Boozer's deal right now. If Deng follows the trend, he'd average a PER in the 12-13 range which is pretty scarily bad even with good non-PER intangibles.
Jimmy Butler can step in and solve that problem for Chicago though. He'll be entering his prime at that point, and he'll likely be the better defender of the two at that point. He's already more disruptive defensively and his fundamentals will improve considerably with another year of practice. How comfortable he makes the Bulls about giving him the SF keys will depend on how much his shooting can improve over this stretch.
Butler has shown excellent shooting skills at times, but he definitely does not have Deng's ability to shoot jumpers in volume with quality results yet. That said whatever shooting limitations he has seem less of a barrier at SF than SG.
While it's not clear what Jimmy's ultimate role with the team is, it seems highly likely that it's a large one somewhere. Paxson/Forman did another excellent job scooping Butler up late in the draft.
[ps, excuse the typos, I just had shoulder surgery yesterday and typing isn't easy, but I thought I owed you an article]