How Jimmy Butler Can Continue To Improve

How Jimmy Butler Can Continue To Improve

To this day, attempting to comprehend how Jimmy Butler managed to transform himself from a fringe role player to a fully fledged All-Star is a difficult task. Given how far he's come, it's hard to imagine that Butler can continue to build his game as he embarks on his prime years. At some point, the safe best is to assume he'll eventually stop defying the odds, but who's to say it's not possible?

Breaking out last season by evolving into 20 point scorer, Butler extended his offensive output in 2015-16, taking on a larger role as a primary ball handler within the Bulls' halfcourt offense. Increasing his usage and distributing the ball more on dribble penetration, Butler continued his emergence into a complete offensive force, capable of being a triple threat for defenses to fear.

Even with these individual improvements, the recent focus surrounding Butler has been his unwillingness to adapt to Fred Hoiberg's desired style of play, which has led to criticism questioning Butler's desire to do what's best for his team.

For better or worse, Butler is who he is. We're unlikely to see a seismic shift in Butler's offensive approach. Reshaping the slow and methodical, isolation based approach where he chooses to dominate the ball, to a quick and dynamic style with more movement, will not happen. Because of this, Hoiberg will need to reconfigure an offensive game plan that adapts to Butler's style of play. At the very least, they must come to some compromise, in order to make things work.

Butler, too, must work on some minor flaws that currently exist if he's to take the next level to justify an entire offensive system to be geared to his strengths. Focusing on Butler's game and picking up on the smaller tendencies that must be ironed out, minimizing the use of the following bad habits will ensure Butler's growth into a complete offensive weapon continues, particularly if his desire to play more as point guard transpires.


Stop With The Jump Passes

I'll be upfront.  When a guard barrels into the paint with intention of getting to the hoop for their own score, but then decides to pass at the last moment, often results in a turnover. And it may be my biggest pet peeve in basketball.  Every high school coach harps against the jump pass, drilling players not leave the ground unless we're certain a move can be completed. It defies logic that the star's of the league continue to commit this basic basketball taboo.

I'm not sure why player's fall in love with leaving the ground without having a plan. Perhaps they're bored in making the simple, routine play that will keep coaches happy? Maybe they need more excitement and variability in a long and mundane NBA that making such a move is their form of a mid-air expression?

I don't know what the reason is, but I do know that I get angry when it occurs, even if it works.

A move that has virtually been patented by Derrick Rose over the years, Butler's increased usage has seen him handling the ball more as a playmaker, which has resulted in more turnovers coming from forcing the issue on drives and searching for a bailout assist.

As a dribble-penetrating guard whose focus is to attack a rim with full ferocity, the tunnel vision that comes with this objective can quickly lead to incorrect decisions and reckless attempts at aerial acrobatics. Realizing this whilst airborne, a player will look to correct the initial mistake - the drive - by forcing a pass that must be executed in a split second. Not only does this increase the likelihood of a turnover, but a player's teammates are likely not in position to receive a pass as the assumption of a shot being taken is made.

In the following clip, on the road against the Phoenix Suns, Butler and Pau Gasol initiate a basic high pick-and-roll. Charging into the lane with only the intention of scoring, Butler realizes that Tyson Chandler has covered his penetration perfectly, coercing a change of mind, and ultimately a turnover.

On this occasion, Butler needs to understand when an efficient layup attempt is on offer. Without having a step on his man and the penetration being defended well, the erroneous decision to attempt a driving layup was compounded further by throwing a pass mid-air without assessing the position of all other player's in the offensive set.

Sure, there are times when the jump pass is unavoidable. But if Butler must push forward for a layup that can't be completed, an option exists to pick up his dribble for an up-fake to get Chandler in the air, then powering into a shot that draws contact and free throws. Even better, evaluating the situation earlier and keeping his dribble alive - like all good point guards do - would allow Butler to initiate another shot attempt by simply choosing not to jump and pass when a perceived option is nonexistent.


Keeping The Dribble Alive

Subsequently, another aspect of his game that Butler needs to quickly cut out is the habit of making a move that doesn't produce the desired result, then accepting defeat by killing off your dribble.

Submitting to good defense by picking up your dribble and forcing yourself to remain flat footed in one position is never a good idea against the elite defenders Butler typically must navigate through. By giving up his dribble, not only is he helping his defender complete his job, it requires Butler's teammates to react to his trapped position and to help by moving towards him, which is something the Bulls struggled immensely with all season.

Attempting a move toward the basket, Butler is defended well by Phooenix's P.J. Tucker, who is able to stay in front of Butler by moving his feet quickly enough to deny the sideline drive. Discouraged by Tucker's quality defense, Butler picks up his dribble, finding himself stuck on the block with very few options. Fortunately for the Bulls, Nikola Mirotic is in position to receive a pass from Butler for a bailout 3-point attempt, but by stopping his dribble, Butler makes the job of the defense a lot easier by reducing his potential options.

Similar to the logic Butler should have employed with the jump pass example, knowing when to attack and having a counter move is critical. Maintaining your dribble not only increases your choice of available moves to use when your first attempt fails, but by extending the play, it builds continuity in possessions and for the defense to think a lot harder when guarding Butler.


Stop Dribbling Into Corners

For year's, Butler was a key piece in Tom Thibodeau's defense that attempted to trap the opposition offense onto one side of the court, preferably on the baseline or corner. For this reason, it is rather ironic that Butler is prone to submitting himself between his defender, the corner and out of bounds.

As defense's league-wide have adopted Thibodeau's defensive principles, an understanding that a team's goal to force an offensive player into a defensive blackhole must be acknowledged. If the ball handler does not possess the dribbling skills to change direction and move the defender laterally, they'll end up trapped in a corner, which occurs in this example against the Charlotte Hornets.

Guarded by Nic Batum, who denies the middle of the floor by shaping his stance to the sideline in hope of enticing a drive, Butler takes the bait and streams to his left. Inadvertently dribbling directly into the awaiting Frank Kaminsky, Butler is now locked into the corner, who uses the baseline and the corner to act as an additional defender to trap Butler.

Fortunately for the Bulls, this play does create a mismatch, with Butler now being guarded by a power forward, enabling Nikola Mirotic post position against the smaller Batum. Picking up his dribble and caught in a corner, Butler attempts a bounce pass into Mirotic, who has failed to establish position. A turnover is caused in large part to Mirotic allowing Batum to easily maneuver past him for a steal, but the sequence of events begin with Butler assisting the defense by dribbling into a position of weakness.

Ideally, Butler should have tried harder to get into the middle of the court, be it with his own dribble or dictating where he needed the screen to be placed. If that wasn't possible and dribbling into a corner was a must, passing back out to Gasol and resetting the offense at the top of the key would have been good option.  If this had occurred, Butler could have followed the ball to Gasol for a dribble hand-off and a potential driving opportunity against Gasol's man, Al Jefferson, who can taken off the dribble with ease.

Relative to most advancements we expect player’s to take, the outlined development opportunities for Butler’s continued progression are minor. Given the scale of his talent and skills, only slight improvements are likely to be made as he nears his fully formed basketball self.

Almost unnoticeable if not actively looking for them, these small adjustments will help Butler become an even more prominent offensive figure, and will help both himself and his team in developing an efficient offense, which should be the primary objective of all the key decision makers involved with the Bulls given the intolerable scoring output on display this season.


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  • I'd like to see Butler continue to improve on another team.

  • In reply to Vic Nardozza:

    I don't think that is a bad idea, but I'd like to see him play more and talk less

  • fb_avatar

    Four team trade to blow this team up:

    Boston gets: DeMarcus Cousins, Carl Landry, Mike Dunleavy, #44 pick

    Sacramento gets: Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Tony Snell Marcus Smart, #24, #26 Philly

    Philadelphia gets: Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Nikola Mirotic

    Bulls get: #1 pick Philly, #3 pick Boston via Brookly, #8 pick Sacramento, #16 pick Boston via Dallas, #31 pick Boston via Philly, Ben Mclemore, James Young.

    Bulls pick #1- SF Ben Simmons, LSU
    Bulls pick #3- SG Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
    Bulls pick #8- PF-Domantis Sabonis, Gonzaga
    Bulls pick #14-PG-Dejounte Murray, Washington
    Bulls pick #16-C-Stephen Zimmerman, UNLV
    Bulls pick #31-PG-Gary Payton Jr, Oregon State

    C-Cristiano Felicio, Stephen Zimmerman, Cameron Bairstow
    PF-Bobby Portis, Domantis Sabonis
    SF-Doug McDermott, Ben Simmons
    SG-Ben Mclemore, Buddy Hield, James Young
    PG-Justin Holiday, Gary Payton Jr., Dejounte Murray

  • In reply to Rocky Rosado:

    There is no way the Bulls have enough assets to pull all those first rounds picks. No way. We could get the Brooklyn pick from Boston for Butler, or a mid-to-high lottery pick for Mirotic, but that about it. Maybe Rose pulls a future 1st rounder for a team that swings and misses in free agency this summer, but what are we getting back in terms of cap implications?

  • Very nice analysis! Keep it up.

  • All you teenagers out there want to get rid of the whole team not realizing how hard it is and was to finally get a few legitimate starts like Noah, Rose, and Butler--and even how lucky we were to have Gasol for a couple of years. It takes time, good coaching, and luck to get quality and experienced ball players.
    You younger guys don't remember how a team was finally built around Jordan with the developing of Pippen and Horace Grant. Paxton, Kerr, Cartright, Boerwinkle, Longly and other players were productive with good coaching and a progressive team format. Those 6 championships with Jordan were not an accident--this time with Rose, Noah, and Butler along with Mirotic, McDermott, Dunleavy, Felicio, are all possibly part of the making of a fine foundation for a championship team--but, as usual the pieces must fit and be developed--we have already started over why should we give away our most talented players to start completely all over again.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    Maybe if we had a Jordan on our roster we could afford to wait for players to develop. All we have is a moody self proclaimed leader throws coaches under the bus every season. Also we have one of the oldest rosters in the NBA so development is going to be minimal.

    This core is flawed and it goes all the way to your beloved "superstar" Jimmy. They are quitters and I think a lot of that stems from the "leadership" that certain players have taken upon themselves.

    However as long as GarPax is in charge you shall get your dream of no change fulfilled and I shall long for the days they finally get fired.

  • In reply to penwit1:

    I'm with you on Jimmy but Rose, Noah and Gasol aren't stars anymore and simply put, that is why we have to start completely all over again, like it or not. Mirotic, McDermott and Dunleavy are all redundant players and none of them, nor Felicio, are part of any foundation, they are role players AT BEST. Mirotic is the only one who could develop into a core piece but he looks just as likely to be out of the league 3 years from now.

    The one place I wouldn't start over is by moving Jimmy, though I would definitely entertain offers.

  • Scott Brooks commenting on the importance of defense at his news conference after being hired by the Wiz

    On the court, the Wizards want to be better defensively, and Brooks has already set his sights on getting their defensive shooting percentage "down to a respectable number" from .462 last season.

    "I believe in two-way basketball teams," Brooks said. "It's going to take time and commitment. Scoring's fun, but it's hard to win night in and night out on a consistent level against competitive teams if you're just thinking about playing one end of the floor."

    Sounds like a philosophy that the Bulls might want to consider when deciding which players to keep, which ones to get rid of, and which new ones to bring in. We clearly have way too many one way players right now who think that effort on defense is beneath them, led by the head mope a dopes, Rose and Gasol and followed by the guys that are too physically inept to play it even if they were trying, the M&M boys.

  • Jimmy is at his ceiling. 20 points per game doesn't make you a superstar unless you win something. I'd like to see opponents ppg against him, because it doesn't look like he stops anyone in my opinion. He talks too much and can't improve any more. He needs to play the 3.

  • Man, this blog is on life support. Butler can't shoot threes. Period. The time to trade him where his value was highest has passed IMO. Still, you might be able to get an up and comer as in astute steal for him. It's like drafting though in that being right is never easy.

    For those who think Gar/Pax are not the answer it doesn't appear they are going anywhere even while missing the playoffs and hiring a coach with no professional coaching experience who appears less a leader then one would expect of a successful pro sports franchise.

    In regards to the draft when you don't get to see these guys personally it really is a game of chance. Because most successful players have that fiery competitiveness that is gleaned from an inside look. Still, we have that 'hunch.' As of now I like Furkan Korkmaz and Caris LeVert. Korkmaz looks like a good kid and competitor. LeVert has a lot of red flags including injuries and lack of production or prolific scoring. Still, from what I saw this year, and certain key stats I like him. Though again as a person the scout and management only have that insight.

  • In reply to RoadWarrior:

    A blog needs at least 3 new posts per week to stay active, IMO. Plus the Bulls are both bad and hopeless so all but the most die hard fans have turned their attention elsewhere, e.g. the Cubs. If you just want to rage against Bulls management, there's always blogabull.

  • In reply to Roman F:

    It's something I want to improve into the next season, to have 3 or posts a week. It's difficult at the moment because content is minimal and the Bulls were a difficult watch this season, but I would love to see this place thrive. I know what it use to be under Doug, and I'm not sure I can ever get it back to those days with that amount of content, but I will endeavor to get more content out for next season.

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