Has Jimmy Butler developed into a much better player or does he simply play much better on a much better team? Much like Luol Deng, Butler's not particularly adept at creating his own shot or hitting the three, but he looks awfully good on a team with quality teammates where he has a step of space when making decisions.
Teams seeing what Butler can do in a good environment may well forget that he looked quite a bit more pedestrian on offense in a poor one. In fact, if Butler were to finish the season with these numbers then he's absolutely getting a max offer from someone next season.
The Bulls will regret not getting an extension done, but the downside risk never made sense to do one. They may spend an extra two million per season on Butler next year, but he's presently playing with a PER of around 21 vs a career average of 14.5.
Paying Butler 12-13 million per season for what he'd previously shown would have been a massive risk even if there were plenty of signs he'd improve with a real cast around him. Heck paying him the max when he looks like a guy who's success relies considerably on the level of talent around him still looks dicey, but they simply won't be able to afford to lose him.
Perhaps Butler will slow down as the season progresses changing the conversation, but right now the case could be made that he's been the Bulls best player. He's trivially their best perimeter defender and thus far has been the best team defender as well.
He's also their leading scorer in terms of points per game (though fourth behind Gasol, Rose, and Brooks in points per minute) while doing that scoring with a TS% over 60% which is in the elite category. Through his six games this season, Jimmy Butler has made the transition to elite efficiency on heavy volume type on offense.
In fact, those Paul George upside comparisons everyone gave Jimmy? They all of a sudden don't look quite so crazy.
It's tempting to hedge. It's tempting to assume Butler will simply slow down and regress to the mean. However watching the way he's getting his points I don't see what he can't continue. His three point shooting seems a bit high relative to my perception of his quality as a shooter, but he's only taking quality looks with his feet set.
His mid range jump shooting percentage has been really good, but he's taking short mid range shots that should be will within his range. His ability to get to the free throw line has been proven throughout his career already and shouldn't be questioned.
Jimmy Butler looks like a guy who can kick a defense's ass when given that extra one step of space. Last year he didn't have it. Last year his looks weren't this good. This year he does and the difference is eye popping.
Even more impressive, he's still playing with his sprained thumb wrapped up and isn't even fully healthy. His play has been so good through the injury that the thought that he's playing injured has slipped through our consciousness.
When Rose attempted the come back last season, Jimmy Butler was viewed as the wild card. He ended his sophomore campaign shooting really well from beyond the arc and started to show a scoring streak. Bulls fans felt if only he could continue that streak and become an efficient offensive player that they'd have a complete team.
He's done it. Now he just needs to keep it up.
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