Jimmy Butler: Future SG or Luol Deng replacement?

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
Paul Pierce 21.875 19.3 -2.575
Tayshaun Prince 15.35 14.3 -1.05
Corey Maggette 19.175 16.775 -2.4
Gerald Wallace (1.5years) 17.65 14.85 -2.8
Richard Jefferson 16.375 11.65 -4.725
Toni Kukoc 18.95 17.65 -1.3
Shawn Marion 21.5 16.725 -4.775
Hedo Turkoglu 16.175 13.3 -2.875
Tracy McGrady 20 12.076 -7.924
Peja Stojakoviv 18.85 14.1 -4.75
Scottie Pippen 21.125 21.325 0.2
Chris Mullen 21.475 17.3 -4.175
Dominique Wilkens 22.85 23.025 0.175
Manu Ginobili 19.475 23.45 3.975
Glen Rice 17.75 17.125 -0.625
Vince Carter 21.325 20.375 -0.95
Dan Majerle 15.95 13.9 -2.05
Average 19.16764706 16.89564706 -2.272
Luol Deng 14.93 12.67???

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]


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  • Problem is if Jimmy is Dengs replacement we still will not have a shooting guard!!! I hope if jimmy shot as well as his shot creation improves that he will be our future SG. keep Deng at a cheap rate especially if there is no one that we can get that's a significant upgrade.

  • In reply to bullzfan:

    Dumping Deng's $14mil should theoretically should allow us to get a SG.

  • In reply to bullzfan:

    Luol Deng is not going to give up 10-20 million to sign here at a 'cheap' rate.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    You can't say that he won't give discount. If bulls have legit chance at title he may sign for less money if he really wants a title. Lets say butler is dengs replace who's available for bulls to sign as SG?? Bulls history shows that they are reluctant to make big moves via trade. So that's out. Easier rode is hope as fan that jimmy butler can emerge as a legit SG and Deng gives discount. smh

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    Hopefully, that is why Luol Deng will not be the second coming of Kirk Hinrich in 2014.

  • Get well soon Doug and as far as Butler being the full time sg, I feel like he can play the position at times this year and if his perimeter game continue to improve going into next year than he should be the starting sg next year til Deng contract is up after next year. With Deng and Boozer off the books after next year the Bulls owner if he's not still playin the cheap game can go after a true sg and another big pf that can score consistently to add next to Rose, Butler, Noah, and Taj. And before any Bulls homer fan mentions this guy, I'm not sold on the euro guy coming to the NBA and the Bulls being able to be an all star savior for the Bulls. I read on hoophype last week that Real Madrid or who ever he plays for is his only concern, to me his guy sounds like the NBA is the furthest thing on his mind and he has no interest in leaving his home. I just wouldn't chase this guy if I owned the Bulls. I would try to convince Toronto or the Pacers to take thus guy in some sort of trade package for Derozen of the Raptors or George of the Pacers who I believe contracts would be up after next year. Now if there is a 2014 plan, that would be a good start for it.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Paul George? Why not just ask for Lebron and Durant? George is pretty much untouchable at this point. And the same could be said for Derozan. If the Bulls wanted Derozan, they should have traded for him when his value was low (before the season). Now that TOR gave him a huge, he's actually played up to it.

    The TOR SG we should be making a play for is Ross (can shoot and has great athleticism). He'll be hard to get as well, but TOR would be willing to move for a SF like Deng. But again, if we wait too long, he could ball out and then TOR decides not to trade him.

    Other SGs who we could trade for hole their values are low: Tyreke, Marshon Brooks.

    Regarding Mirotic, I've had those worries ever since I found out about his contract situation last year. His contract runs through 2015. He loves playing over in Europe as one of the best players. And not only is he currently getting paid more than he would be if he were in the NBA, but his next contract will get him paid as well. If the Bulls do get him, we'd be lucky if he comes over at all, let alone early.

  • In reply to YouBlewwIt:

    There are several issues with Mirotic. First, even if the money in the NBA is the same the first few years, it won't be for his second signing as an FA. Remember, he's only 20! Plus his endorsements will be much larger in the NBA.

    Second, does he want to be a big fish in a small pond, or a big fish in a big pond? Does he want to play with the very best? Even if he does not care right now, he might grow into that in a couple of years.

    Third, this guy is a player. He can attack the rim and hit the three! Plus he has a lot of upside. He is still learning the game.

    If the Bulls have a decent upcoming draft, if Teague makes the kind of jump up in skill that Butler has, if Rose is back to Allstar form, the Bulls have enough right there to shoot for the ring next season. After all, Deng and Noah are borderline Allstars, plus Taj, Belli, Nate and Booz wil all have some solid games.

    If the Bulls want to trade Deng this summer for a pick/prospects and an expiring, that should be doable. But Deng will himself also then be an expiring, so I would not do it unless it's a lottery pick.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    Both players are restricted, so it depends what their teams think. I really doubt the Pacers are giving up Paul George. I'm not really that high on DeRoza myself as he can't shoot the three and shoots a very low percentage from the field.

  • In reply to Reese1:

    "Go after a true SG" and "another big pf" sounds good in theory but it's rarely just a matter of money. They went after Joe Johnson with a huge contract, didn't they?

    That's why you hope the Euro guy becomes a NBA star -- it's not a cheap way out, it's just that stars are hard to come by. If the Bulls can trade him for a more proven player, I'm all for it.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    Totally agree with your points on Mirotic! But if they do trade the Mirotic rights, don't trade Butler!

    Hey the Bulls also have the Charlotte pick getting closer and closer.

  • Please excuse typos...

  • Doug, You're the luol deng, iron-man of podcasting. Thank you for playing through your injuries.

  • I am with you Doug. Signing Deng up to another big contract doesn't make sense. I would rather have Jimmy at SF as his offense translates better there than at SG where other teams can just slack off and take away his driving lanes. I like the athletisicm he has which Deng doesn't but you will likely lose out on scoring punch making the switch. Although in my mind it isn't enough to justify a 12 million dollar contract. Rather free up space for when Boozer comes off and make a run at a second scorer to pair with rose.

    I would like to see them actually for once plan ahead and move Deng this offseason for a pick as letting another guy walk for no return would be a very cruel joke. Almost as bad as Kirk as our starting SG next season... Please no one mention that again its just too painful.

    Good article Doug! Hope the shoulder heals up quick.

  • In reply to Chad:

    Ding ding ding!

    Short of the Bulls make the Finals and NOT getting blown out, I think Deng needs to be traded in the offseason. This 2014 'plan' has the Bulls letting Deng walk in 2014, with some fans skeptical that they will actually let him walk and not bust our cap resigning him.

    Nonetheless, Bulls need to be smart, trade Deng for an asset in the offseason, and then in 2014, if Deng wants to come back at a discount (which he would have needed to do if we kept him anyways), we'd have an additional asset along with Deng.

    Hopefully Boozer has a good showing down the stretch and playoffs so we can bamboozle a team into taking him in the offseason as well.

  • In reply to Chad:

    The problem with moving Deng for a pick is that you radically lower your odds of winning next year for what likely amounts to a fairly insignificant asset.

    The same was kind of true last year with Asik. If Rose doesn't tear his ACL then the Bulls would have had a very legit chance at winning the title given they'd have played the Heat without Bosh for four and a half games, and if you had traded Asik at the deadline for a future mid 1st, you'd have been pissed for not having him.

    That's why it's always tough if you are trying to compete for the title. You can't give up a very good player for a pedestrian prospect to make your odds marginally better at some other point.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    It's always a dice roll, isn't it? The Lakers looked tremendous when they picked up Howard. but what now?

    So, it's safer to make 2 solid picks in this summer's draft, develop Teague, and wait for Mirotic and the Charlotte pick. And a few nice FAs like Nate and Belli are always welcome!

    The Bulls will be good next year regardless. If Rose is 100%, or even 95%, with Teague and Butler both better, and at least one solid pickup in the draft, they will contend next year. Like to see Teague on the court more -- not a huge increase, but get him the experience.

  • In reply to DougThonus:

    I take that mid to low lottery pick for Deng over letting him walk every time. Cheap rookie and who knows a lot of those mid lottery picks turn into solid starters (Deng himself was a mid lottery pick). Plus you shed the salary and remove option of Paxson overpaying him again (you know he will). Its like the gift that keeps on giving!

    Give Jimmy Butler 40 mins a game and his numbers won't be that far off from Dengs. I am not as high on Jimmy as a lot of you but do like his athletic ability on a team laking it amongst the starters. You can say his game doesn't translate to PER but Jimmy brings the same defense and has a higher PER (only slightly). You would likely lose some offensive punch but that will only be for one season and it wouldn't be drastic enough to greatly effect their odds. Loul gets lit up by LeBron and Durant because he isn't athletic enough to hang with them. Those two are the main playoff competition and Jimmy would probably do a better job on either given his athletic ability. The move in my oppinion doesn't drastically change our playoff odds given Deng struggles against the two top contenders anyway. I mean LeBron just tears us up in the post season and does so with great effeciency. How much worse could Jimmy actually do?

    I think its win win saves money and perhaps we hit on the draft pick. Plus Jimmy gets the chance to show what hes got or doesn't got.

  • While it is ideal to have a 2 guard that can create his own shot, how many of those are there? And given the overall lack of talent at the position league-wide, where does that place Jimmy's current and future value? Off the top of my head there are a few guys that qualify as 2's that can create their own shot:

    Kobe, Wade, Harden, Ellis...Mayo? Ray Allen? Kevin Martin sort of?

    Very quickly we get into a class of guys we would consider Jimmy more valuable than: Ben Gordon, Shannon Brown, JJ Reddick, etc. And of the first guys listed, would you even trade Jimmy (not considering salaries) straight up for Allen or Martin? Given age and injury concerns, I would not. There are some other young guys like Terrence Ross or Bradley Beal, but they are unproven and have shown less than even Jimmy has at this point.

    So in my mind, while it would be nice to have Kobe or Harden, that's an impossibility and we need to consider Jimmy's candidacy at the 2 against the relative league-wide positional weakness. And given Jimmy's defense, size, youth, and improving offensive game, I'd think most teams in the league would be happy to exchange their situation for ours.

  • In reply to stakfry526:

    WEll I don't think it's all about creating a shot, but a guy who can't create his own shot and can't hit threes is more of a problem. Most SGs in the NBA are pretty good at one or the other or are viewed as horrible players.

  • Thanks for putting those numbers together for us. A couple things stuck out to me:

    1) It surprises me how low Deng's PER is compared to some of those other guys. Granted, Deng has never been known as a scorer, and he did have an injury last year, but it sort of puts into perspective how good he is defensively when seeing how average he is offensively according to PER.

    2) Scottie Pippen is the man.

    One thing to consider is that out of all of those guys listed in your chart, Deng has to have one of the best work ethics. Of course that's a subjective opinion, but I can imagine Deng being the type to have a small drop off or perhaps even improve a bit (considering how low his PER is to begin with).

  • In reply to HINrichPolice:

    Deng's also had a ton of injuries though, he's the type of player you wouldn't be surprised at all if he wore down and got considerably worse because of it either.

  • In reply to HINrichPolice:

    Work ethic is a young man's attribute. It's easy to train and play hard when your body is young and recovers fast. Older players have to play fewer minutes because your body just can't go at it when you're in your 30s like it could in your mid 20s.

    Deng's best attribute right now is that he can put in 40+ minutes of hard effort at both ends for an entire season. Will he be able to do that in 5 years time? I doubt it.

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  • good topic and pretty much related to how the Bulls will go with the guard/wing rotation next year. I don't think they can afford to let Teague sit on the bench and retard his development another year. It's obvious they have no intention of bringing back beli or hamilton but thibodeau has shown in the past that he prefers a "range shooting two" and thats the reason he gave starting Bogans over Brewer. I believe this is the reason why the Bulls brought in D. Cook, so he could take the role of Bogans, starting the game and hitting a few threes but you can argue the Bulls will let Hinrich start in the Bogans role. He will play 25 minutes a night, splitting time with Butler with Butler getting some time from the SF and Teague playing 10 minutes a game. Cook is the backup Bogans in waiting if Hinrich has an injury. The Bulls will not add ANY SALARY, they will go with what they have and shed salary from the sg position.

    If the Bulls didn't want to extend Deng, they should of traded him last year with a deeper draft instead of just letting him expire with no return...The smart Blazers got rookie stud Lillard for the expiring of Wallace and I believe Deng is better than Wallace so like someone said, I just hope the Bulls don't screw up another asset. You can better believe while Garpax are hoping to retain players on the cheap, other daryl morey type gms are already making plans to offer Deng 4/50. Teams like GS would love to have a Deng as would other teams motivated to make deep playoff runs. Is luol Deng worth 50 million over 4 years? Maybe not but thats what he's going to get. Pax and Forman better get with it and have plans in place.

  • In reply to Defense-Rebound13:

    Doug made the same point last summer that you just did. The Bulls should have traded Deng last year for a pick and an expiring. And I agreed, as did a lot of fans, because the draft was deep. But the Bulls did not want the garbage expiring player.

    No doubt it would have been great to get Lillard, but the Bulls have missed on plenty of their lottery picks. We don't know who the next Lillard will be for months or even 2 years. The Bulls are doing well with more of their later picks!

  • The Bulls should be planning on re-signing Deng if they fall anything short of landing a true superstar player. I'm far more interested in pairing Deng and Butler than I'm interested in Butler replacing Deng. There are so few players that truly are committed to helping their team win and their teammates succeed. You don't just plug in someone with the same PER.

    I also believe Butler can make the steps necessary to move into the starting lineup at SG. Outside of extending the range on his shot what holds him back on offense is his self-image far more than any limitations in his skillet. He's almost Derrick Rose like in terms of balance, particuarly the way they can both load up off two feet and maintain balance through contact. He gets to the free throw line. His handles are good enough now to where he can handle in the pick and roll. He can post smaller players. His balance and jumpshot fundamentals are solid enough that I have confidence in his ability to extend his range.

  • Excellent post/topic, if a bit premature, unless you think that the Bulls should look to trade Deng at this years trading deadline, which clearly does not seem to be on anyones mind.

    At this point Butler seems to be someone who can play both positions, but might be a classic tweener. He has great size for a shooting guard, but can't shoot like one should. He seems to be a bit undersized for a small forward, but his offensive game seems better suited to that of a small forward.

    As I have noted before(and steve Kerr concurred) Butler has a very nice stroke at the free throw line and is shooting around 85% from the line. He should be able to translate this quality shooting to his floor game at some level. Can he extend that to the 3 point line? He should work on the corner 3 first to see if he can become a legit threat from there.

    My sense is that he has already shown that he can be an adequate starter at either position. Can he be a championship level starter, or is he a 6th man type on a championship team, that is the question that the Bulls must answer by the trade deadline of next season.

    The Bulls have zero cap flexibility for next season, they are basically guaranteed to be a tax payer as they already have $73 million guaranteed for only 8 guys. Even I don't believe that they will amnestitize Bozo this summer.

    In order for there to be any kind of 2014 plan they have to amnestitize the Matabozo and let Deng walk or trade him for no incoming salary.

    With Matabozo and no Deng and no Hinrich the Bulls will enter the summer of 2014 with about $60 million on the books for 8 players. Which by that point should be slightly under the cap, but not enough to add any significant talent. If they resign Deng that puts them back over $70 million into tax payer range by the time they fill out the roster.

    If they amnestitize Bozo but keep Deng they could be at $55 million for 8 guys, enough under the cap to bring Mirotic over at a decent number as a replacement for Bozo and then filling out the roster with minimums and exceptions.

    If they go all in, amnestitize Bozo and let Deng go, then they would be at only $43 million which would theoretically allow them to sign a max player, assuming that there is a worthy one available. Signing a max guy might jeopardize their ability to bring over Mirotic.

    It seems that teams are starting to figure out that 3 8 figure contracts is the limit, 4 may not even work for the Lakers or the Knicks, it definitely doesn't work for anyone else. The Bulls now have 4 and with Taj kicking in next year they will be close to 5.

    In order to get their long term salary structure in line with the realities of the new CBA they have to let Deng walk, and amnestitize Bozo. leaving them with only 2 8 figure contracts(Rose and Noah) plus Taj. Then sign a max quality player for their 3rd 8 figure guy then add Mirotic.

    I never thought that Deng would age well, and as only an average(at least offensively) player even in his prime, never viewed him as anything better than a 3rd(I would say that both Horace Grant and Rodman were better/more important than Deng is) or 4rth best player on a championship team. So you replace Deng with the best wing player available(Lebron) and Butler plays either the 2 or 3 depending on who you sign, with Mirotic replacing bozo.

    My fear is that the Bulls will pull a Hinrich and resign Deng thus locking us into 4 more years of mediocrity.

    My head hurts, as a fan it is way too early to start worrying about this. There is plenty of time to do so after we get bounced from the playoffs.

  • I think you have to let Deng walk. But as I said previously about this, the replacement the Bulls aim for should be LeBron. He's the only guy worth signing in 2014, if the Bulls really are going after a 2014 plan then it has to be with the aim of sign LeBron or short term contracts and roll the space over into 2015, if they do an equivalent of the Boozer signing in 2014 then they've blown it.

    So obviously if you get LeBron then who cares about J-Butts best position, you have the best player in basketball. Now in the much more likely case LeBron doesn't come ...

    I think if you look forward a couple of years then the only SG that worries you is James Harden. The SG position is hot garbage right now, so having your defensive stopper there seems kind of a waste. I think he's much better deployed as a SF. Find a 2 guard who can shoot lights out from three even if they're not much good at anything else. Or alternatively find a PG better than Hinrich or Robinson or Teague and run a two point guard lineup. Since there's no SG who can hurt you that badly on the other end, why can't Rose guard them?

  • Man, Rip Hamilton is a dog, plain and simple, and not because he misses a ton of buckets, it is what he does(or doesn't do) after he misses.

  • In reply to BigWay:

    I think Hamilton starting over Jimmy is becoming harder to justify than Keith Bogans ever was.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    or Belli for that matter. Things are going to get even worse when Rose returns, because Hinrich will be getting minutes at 2 guard.

    Basically, when Rose is back, Rip should be permanently assigned to the DNP-CD line. Unfortunately, Thibs being Thibs, that is not going to happen.

  • Nate Robinson is a clown but some nights you're just glad he's your clown.

    Boozer being out meant some of the Butler/Deng 3/4 combo ... hopefully even with Boozer healthy it's something Thibs will use. Nobody can tell me with a straight face that Deng is going to defend PFs worse than Boozer. If LeBron and Melo are playing major PF minutes I don't see why Deng can't fill in there occasionally.

  • In reply to Shakes:

    A little something from S.I.

    7. JaVale McGee, rebounding thief

    The closest thing the NBA has to a state of nature is McGee’s working against his own teammates on the glass. Watch how much work he puts into uncontested rebounds; anything even remotely in his range necessitates a scramble to the ball, regardless of whether a teammate may be in more convenient position to get to the rebound first. McGee’s is hardly the only cannibalistic rebounder, but I find him by far the most entertaining.

    could just as easily be talking about Mr Garbage Time, Bimbo the Boozer.

  • A couple of points

    1. Butler at the 2 is a potential defensive force -- longer and taller than most people he guards. At the 3 he's a scrappy overachiever, shorter and skinier than many he guards.

    2. Based on his extension, the Bulls have determined that Gibson will be the replacement for Boozer -- further depleting the team of guys that can get their own shots.

    3. It would seem someone who can score needs in volume is needed at the three -- i.e. Mirotic.

    4. Since he's likely not coming over when Deng's contract is up, is there an ability for the Bulls to overpay for Deng, but for a short contract length? 2 years at 28 - 32 M?

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