All of the early talk from training camp about Jimmy Butler being far and away the Bulls’ best performer hasn’t been met by preseason validation, but after all, it’s only preseason.
So with the days quickly winding down to the start of the regular season, things should become more and more real to everyone involved, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Butler’s performances look more regular-season like in the coming week.
He looked like a dominant figure in the preseason opener against the Milwaukee Bucks but perhaps knowing what his workload will be come the regular season, put it on cruise control for the subsequent games.
It’s certainly not cause for alarm, but given he’s in a new system and will get his opportunities in different places than his breakout 2014-15 campaign, the goal should be to have at least one Jimmy Butler-like performance before he sees LeBron James staring at him on opening night.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg believes Butler’s trying to facilitate more but anticipates a more aggressive player in the three games this week — if the three practice days after their last preseason game against Detroit were any harbinger.
“He was really aggressive. We scrimmaged some yesterday. We had a great practice,” Hoiberg said. “Just getting that rhythm going again. He hit a couple shots in our last game against Detroit. It’s getting that aggressiveness. But I think what he’s trying to do is get other guys involved and have that playmaker role. I think you’ll see a more aggressive Jimmy, similar to how he played that first game, the rest of the preseason.”
Depending on how Derrick Rose starts the season on the offensive end, Butler could take a playmaking role to supplement his scoring, one of his stated goals coming into this season.
But his ability to score in a variety of ways is what makes him a dangerous two-way player, and if he’s aggressive, it’ll open things up for the likes of Joakim Noah and Tony Snell and, when they’re on the floor together, present Doug McDermott with catch-and-shoot opportunities.
That said, Hoiberg is trying to put Butler in situations that call for him to look for his own shot. It must be said, this is a relationship in its embryonic stage.
“I’m trying to get him in a lot of live ball screen situations where he comes off a cut and gets the ball where he and Pau (Gasol) or he and Jo get a two-man game going,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, he was great at that in our first game against Milwaukee. He made a lot of plays. Early in that game, he got so many guys wide-open shots that we didn’t knock down. He got himself to the line. There’s a lot of good actions. We haven’t shown all we’re going to do, like all teams at this time of year.”
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Butler was 4-for-10 shooting against the Pistons last Wednesday, which was a marked improvement from the previous three games where he combined to shoot just 5-for-28 against New Orlenas, Minnesota and Denver.
“There’s some things where if he gets it going a little bit we can get him the ball at certain spots on the floor and we could take advantage of a matchup,” Hoiberg said.
Hornets swingman Michael-Kidd Gilchrist would’ve been a great test for Butler, as he’s no slouch on the defensive end, but the young swingman underwent shoulder surgery and will miss a few months.
However, new addition Nic Batum and veteran Damien Wilkins aren’t walks in the park either, so Butler will have his hands full trying to get off in one of the last few dress rehearsals before things really get real.