After a rigorous, all basketball, no-distractions-whatsoever summer, Jimmy Butler was quoted telling reporters that all he wants to do is help his team win a championship. “That’s it,” Butler said. “You’ll be remembered for being an All-Star a little bit, but if you win a championship, that’s forever.”
Jimmy Butler just might be in for both milestones this year.
It’s players like Butler who are stepping up to the plate this season and fulfilling the Tom Thibadeau philosophy of defense and teamwork. That philosophy has made contenders out of the Bulls for the past few seasons.
And after a shaky start, the Bulls are proving that they are once again ready to take the Eastern Conference crown. Standing in their way are the upset minded Washington Wizards, who are riding high with a talented young backcourt led by John Wall and a speedy offensive philosophy.
What might make the difference this year for the Bulls is their addition of offensive options. This offseason, the Bulls landed a proven former All-Star in Pau Gasol. His slick passing and slippery moves are part of a welcome skill-set that the Bulls have been lacking. The hope was Gasol’s offensive production could help while former MVP Derrick Rose eases into the grind of a full 82-game seasons.
Gasol has been more than solid, averaging 18 and 11, providing additional protection around the rim and contributing a tidy 3 assists per game. Rose, while not playing at his former superstar level quite yet is contributing solid numbers as well. But it’s Jimmy Butler who has caught the attention of his NBA peers.
Butler, a former 2011 first round NBA pick is playing the best basketball of his life and leading the team in scoring, averaging an All-Star level 21.1 points per game. He’s hitting clutch shots, playing stellar defenses and improving his shooting selection, shooting a career high 48% from the field.
Butler will certainly be tested – and needed – against Friday’s marquee matchup with the Wizards. Butler’s length will be the difference when matching up against Washington’s offensive-minded guards and forwards. Specifically, his matchup with upcoming two-guard Bradley Beal and crafty veteran Paul Pierce will be a deciding factor in how the game turns out.
Is it too early to say “statement game?” Not this time. Look for the Bulls to reinforce their defensive philosophy against a Wizards team that wants to push the tempo on offense. It might appear to be an ordinary Friday night NBA game, but the winner of this one just might be the difference in home court advantage come playoff time.