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Jimmy Butler Is More Than Derrick Rose's Sidekick; He's a Star

Published by Bleacher Report on Sun, 28 Dec 2014

CHICAGOHes a star.Thats the word Joakim Noah has for Jimmy Butler, and its the only appropriate word for what hes become.Its safe to say were past the point of simply calling Butler a breakout player or a Most Improved Player candidate. He isnt just a secondary scorer or a stopgap that kept the Chicago Bulls afloat during the early part of the season when Derrick Rose was sidelined with minor injuries, although he is both of those things. Rose is back now, and Butler is still the first option. Its a hat he wears well.As good as Rose has been during the Bulls winning streak, which was extended to six games after Saturdays 107-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, the rock of this team has been Butler, who scored 33 points on Saturday. Hes the one getting the All-Star buzz, leading the team in minutes at 39.9 per game, averaging 22 points and shouldering the defensive load on the perimeter.Hes looking real comfortable out there and thats huge for us, Noah said after the game. Jimmys a stud. Not only is he a great scorer but hes a top defender. A Defensive Player of the Year-type of defender. Im happy hes on the Bulls.Butler emerging as a legitimate first option gives the Bulls a dimension they have not had at any time in the Rose era. This is still Roses team, and if the Bulls hope to contend for a championship, theyll need the former MVP at the peak of his powers. But thanks to Butler, they dont rely solely on Rose, and that gives them versatility.Before his knee injury, Rose was the one whom the Bulls would turn to in the fourth quarter when they absolutely needed a basket. On his best days, thats a role he can still fill. The difference is that now, the Bulls have two players who can. Thats why they went after Carmelo Anthony in free agency, to take the load off Roses back. It turns out that they had that guy in-house the whole time. And now, Rose and Butler are getting comfortable playing with each other.Before this season, Rose and Butler had played together just 273 total minutes75 in 2011-12 and 198 in 2013-14. This season, theyve already eclipsed that total, logging 492 minutes together in 18 games, and theyve grown into a deadly pick-and-roll combination.What you see in our fourth quarter is a [Rose-Butler] pick and roll, Noah said. And I have no problem saying it, its tough to stop. I dont know what teams are going to do because we have two guys who are really confident down the stretch.Its a tough matchup for teams, Butler added. If I run into the post or Derrick takes someone off the dribble, its hard to match up with.In the four games hes played during the Bulls winning streak, Rose is averaging 23.3 points on 54.4 percent shooting, looking like a semblance of his peak self. But the most encouraging thing for the Bulls is that even a near full-strength Rose isnt the be-all and end-all of their offense anymore. When Rose gives them that kind of production, they look as dangerous as any team in the league. But even when he doesnt, they have other options, Butler the most prominent among them.And in Butler, they have a new closer, even if he doesnt want that label.I wouldnt say that Im a closer at all, Butler said after Saturdays win.Id say that my teammates gave me the ball because I was open. It was the right play. If somebody else was open, I would expect that they get the ball.To Noah, Butlers breakout isnt a surprise.Jimmys as stubborn as they come, Noah said. Hes always believed in himself. Even when he was a rookie he always believed he was great. And guys like that, those are the ones that you have to look out for.That relentlessness has caught the eye of Kobe Bryant, who gave Butler a ringing endorsement on Christmas Day before the Bulls win over the Lakers, a game in which Butler scored 21 points along with six rebounds and five assists.When he first came into the league and we played in Chicago, I went out there early to shoot, Bryant recalled. At the time, he wasnt a very consistent shooter, but he was working out early before anybody else got there. Looking at his game, the way hes playing right now, its clear that hes doing that consistently. Its not an accident, its not a hot streak, these are shots that hes consistently making. Hes expanded his game.Since it became applicable to him, Butler has actively resisted the label of star. He says he prefers to think of himself as a role player on a really good team. But the only role that fits him these days is that of a star. Its becoming impossible to call him anything else.Sean Highkin covers the Chicago Bulls for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @highkin
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