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.
“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.
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.
[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]
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.”