Neither a time to panic nor one to praise midway through the Bulls preseason, Jimmy Butler believes, as they have four games remaining before the curtain is up on the 2015-16 season 14 days from Tuesday.
They’ve certainly shown signs of growth offensively, the biggest thing Butler is impressed with as a whole, even though his own individual offense has been up and down. Scoring 115 points—as they did in Monday’s loss to the New Orleans Pelicans—is certainly enough to win most nights even in today’s offense-happy NBA.
But their defense, a staple in recent seasons, has taken a step back. Predictably it was bound to slip when a franchise replaces Tom Thibodeau with an offensive-minded coach like Fred Hoiberg, but Butler doesn’t care for the slippage.
“Everybody’s confident on offense that’s for sure,” Butler said. “Everybody knows their strengths and they go to it. We share the ball extremely well. We rebound extremely well. The only thing we lay down on defense at times and we recklessly foul.”
Fouling the Pelicans to the tune of 37 free-throw attempts is prime for the preseason, when everybody down to the clock operators is still getting adjusted.
“We can always play better to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “We rely too much on our offense than our defense. That can’t happen. It’s preseason, everybody’s learning. It’s all very new to us. That’s what practice is for.”
Asked to grade his own defense—a previous staple he vowed to return to this season—he believes there’s room for improvement, much like this Bulls team as a whole.
“Ehh, it’s alright. It’s not good. I’m not gonna say it’s bad by any means,” he said. “I have to start on that end. I have to let my defense lead to offense. We’ll pick that up on Wednesday.”
When it was suggested a “C” or “C-minus”, he wouldn’t wade into those waters:
“I was never a grade school teacher so I can’t give you pluses or minuses, but it’s ‘aiight’. You give me the grade.”
It looked as if the Bulls get into a comfort zone when scoring becomes too easy, and Butler didn’t wholeheartedly disagree.
“Maybe but I don’t think that’s the thing,” Butler said. “I think whenever we’re scoring the ball well in the first half, we think we’re gonna continue to make shots and we don’t have to guard. It happens. We take that foot off that pedal and stop guarding. Then we’re not making shots, still not guarding, they’re making shots, still not guarding and before you know it, they got the lead.”
After a stellar start to the preseason, a 23-point, six-assist showing against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler is shooting just 18 percent in the three games since. After a 2-for-13 game Monday, he was respectfully dismissive about the notion of being concerned with his own offense.
“Not at all. Continue to take the right shots. It’ll turn around, it happens all the time,” Butler said. “(It’ll) Probably happen during the regular season, to tell you the truth. I know I put in the work, taking the right shots. Keep getting to the paint. More than anything, Continue to make the right play. With the offense we have it’s so spread we have a lot of space. I’m not worried about scoring the ball at all.”
With the only real dud coming in Boulder, Colo. against the Denver Nuggets, he’s more encouraged than discouraged, especially with the number of players being out has limited getting a jump start on their continuity.
“Hell yeah. I like the way we’re moving,” he said. “Let’s just get this defense under way and figure out how to do that. Before you know it, we’ll be winning these preseason games.”