Fred Hoiberg plans to slightly cut Jimmy Butler's minutes


Fred Hoiberg plans to slightly cut Jimmy Butler's minutes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Individual absolutes have been few for the Bulls in recent years, despite their overall successes in the win column but one thing is for certain: finding Jimmy Butler’s name atop the league leaders in minutes played.

At first it was Luol Deng but now Butler has taken his place as the NBA’s Ironman. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, Butler has averaged nearly 39 minutes per contest in 132 games—a full minute more per game than Carmelo Anthony, next on the list at 37.7 minutes per contest.

But Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg hopes to shave off some minutes for Butler this season, with the thought he won’t be worn down come playoff time, when the tread on the tires begin to show. Of the top 10 players in minutes per game during that stretch, only LeBron James can realistically say he plays both ends of the floor hard, but even he doesn’t play defense as consistently as Butler has been known to do.

[MORE: Joakim Noah's activity a bright spot in Bulls' loss to Hornets]

“We’ll see how that plays out,” Hoiberg said. “I would like to have him play a little less than that (usual), so at the end of the season he’s fresh. You want all your guys, fresh, not only mentally but physically and hopefully we’ll accomplish that.”

Butler, who signed a maximum contract in restricted free agency this past summer, doesn’t appear to be a huge fan of the strategy to bring his minutes down, but even if Hoiberg manages to achieve it, Butler will still be high on the list.

“I’m fine with where I’m at. It’s a body thing,” Butler said. “If I’m feeling good enough to play however many minutes, then we gotta go with that. As of right now I’m healthy. I’ll play as many minutes as necessary.”

It’s no secret one division between former coach Tom Thibodeau and the front office was his usage of players. But Butler flourished under Thibodeau and seems to take pride in his high endurance.

[RELATED: Hoiberg wants a more aggressive Jimmy Butler before season starts]

He won’t acknowledge getting fatigued, even though there was talk from the Milwaukee Bucks players in the first round of last season’s playoffs that Butler mentioned how tired he was to them.

Perhaps a little gamesmanship or an admittance to fellow athletes who know what that grind is like.

“There’s no need for that, to tell you the truth. Even if I am tired I really can’t show it, so there’s no sense in being tired,” Butler said. “My team needs me to produce. Oct. 27 (Season opener) is coming soon, so we gotta be prepared for it.”

With Butler’s contract and new standing in the league and on the team, the Bulls appear to be taking steps to conserve his energy so he can be effective when it matters the most. It could be part of the reason Hoiberg doesn’t want to start Doug McDermott while Mike Dunleavy recovers from back surgery, because it would essentially guarantee Butler would have to defend the opposing team’s best perimeter.

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If the Bulls start the more defensive-minded Tony Snell, it gives the Bulls the option of switching Butler on or off said player, or choosing to save Butler for the offensive end altogether.

Doesn’t look like Butler is buying it, though. He played a team-high 37 minutes in Monday’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets, and believes when it comes down to it, he’ll be in front of the likes of Anthony and James.

“I really haven’t thought about it. I’m gonna guard the opposing team’s best player, I think that’s what it’ll come down to at the end of the day,” Butler said. “We’ll see coming soon. I can’t say what we’re gonna do. It’s about helping the team win, whatever the strategy is that particular game we gotta go with it.”

Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth


Bulls player preview: Cristiano Felicio gives center depth

NBC Sports Chicago will preview a different Bulls player every weekday leading up to the start of training camp in late September.

Previous reviews: Lauri Markkanen | Ryan Arcidiacono | Antonio Blakeney | Coby White | Daniel Gafford | Wendell Carter Jr. | Luke Kornet

How last year went

There might have been a path to significant minutes for Cristiano Felicio, but the Bulls wound up drafting Wendell Carter with the seventh pick and keeping Robin Lopez through the duration of his contract. Felicio saw an uptick in minutes after Carter suffered a season-ending thumb injury in January, but he didn’t do much with it.

His best stretch came over the final 11 games of the season when Felicio averaged a modest 7.0 points on 51.7% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 21.9 minutes. He’s still a liability defensively, doesn’t have great hands, and 89 of his 95 made field goals were inside 10 feet.

Expectations for this year's role

Something has gone very wrong if Felicio logs any minutes this season. The Bulls quietly overhauled the position, departing with Lopez, drafting Daniel Gafford in the second round and signing Luke Kornet. It’s suddenly one of the Bulls’ deepest positions – with Wendell Carter Jr. in line for 30+ minutes a night – meaning Felicio is fourth on the depth chart with no real ability to contribute at power forward.

Where he excels

Felicio doesn’t have the surest of hands, but he has always looked comfortable rolling to the rim. It began with lobs from Dwyane Wade and has continued the last two seasons with guards like Ryan Arcidiacono finding him around the rim. Last year Felicio averaged 1.10 points per possession on pick-and-roll possessions, third on the Bulls behind Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. He also scored on 56.5% of those possessions (made field goal or free throws), which edged out Carter for the team lead. Of course, he was limited in not having a perimeter shot to pop out for 3-pointers, but he was a surprisingly nice roll man in his limited minutes.

Where he needs work

Felicio had a Defensive RPM of -1.63 last season, which was the second-worst mark among centers (only Willy Hernangomez was worse). The Bulls were 2.4 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Felicio off the floor, and the Brazilian big had just 11 steals and seven blocks in 746 minutes. It’s not a stretch to say he’s the team’s worst defender. It’s tough to see him improving in that area after four seasons.

Best case/worst case

In a best-case scenario, Felicio shows an improvement on the defensive end and finds some early-season chemistry with Kris Dunn on pick-and-roll action. He’ll be given a chance to compete with Gafford and Kornet for the backup center position. In a worst-case scenario, his deficiencies plague him and he continues to be an $8 million benchwarmer. Most likely, the Bulls continue counting down the days until his salary is off the books.

One key stat

Cristiano Felicio had 7 blocks in 746 minutes last season. How rare is that for a 6-foot-10 player? He’s the only NBA player the last two seasons that tall (or taller) to block seven or fewer shots in at least 740 minutes. The last player to do it was Joffrey Lauvergne in 2017, who blocked just six shots in 980 minutes (he incredibly blocked zero shots for the Bulls in 241 minutes; if you thought the OKC trade couldn’t get worse, you were wrong).

Report: Bulls to add Justin Simon on Exhibit 10 contract

Report: Bulls to add Justin Simon on Exhibit 10 contract

According to reports, the Bulls have signed former St. John's guard Justin Simon to an Exhibit 10 contract.

Simon played three seasons of NCAA basketball, one year with Arizona and two years at St. John's under the tutelage of NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin.

The Exhibit 10 contract is a fairly new situation, allowed by the NBA's last Collective Bargaining Agreement. What it means is that a player under this type of contract will get the league's minimum salary on a non-guaranteed deal that can include bonuses up to $50,000. 

The deal will allow Simon to participate in training camp with the Bulls with the goal of making the roster. The most likely scenario in these situations—i.e. when a player does not make the NBA roster— is that the player is waived before the season starts and assigned to that team's NBA G League affiliate.

So in layman's terms, Bulls fans should expect to see Simon in Hoffman Estates with the Windy City Bulls for the 2019-20 season, that is, as long as he doesn't choose to play overseas or elsewhere. With an Exhibit 10 contract, there are two ways a player can guarantee the full amount of their bonus money: spending at least 60 days on the G League affiliate team or getting their Exhibit 10 deal converted into a Two-Way contract (G League+ NBA deal combined, paid based on what league you are playing in at the time).

Simon is an intriguing add for the Bulls. Currently, the Chicago roster doesn't contain any guards shorter than 6-foot-3, and at 6-foot-5 with a massive 6-foot-11 wingspan, Simon certainly fits the mold.

Simon was the 2018-19 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, finishing in the top 10 in the Big East in both blocks and steals. In his junior year, he was also solid offensively, scoring 10.4 points per game while racking up 104 total assists over 34 games.

We all know how Jim Boylen loves players with the "dog" mentality and Simon's aggressive defense surely caught the eye of Boylen and the Bulls front office. 

In the 2019-20 NBA Summer League, Simon played for the Bulls, averaging 6.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks per game. Unfortunately, Simon did not make a single 3-point shot over his NBA Summer League stint with the Bulls but he has shown the ability to hit the 3-point shot at times at the NCAA level. For his college career, he was a 35.1 percent 3-point shooter but those figures were helped by his sophomore season in which he hit 15 of his 36 shots from deep (41.7 percent).

Simon is not likely to shoot it well from the outside right away at the professional level but this is an important thing to monitor as his jump shot—as with most highly-skilled defensive players—will be the swing skill that will impact his ability to potentially make the NBA roster. 

The Bulls reportedly start training camp on October 1 and fans will likely get their first chance to see Simon in action at the first preseason game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks on October 7 on NBC Sports Chicago.


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