Jimmy Butler finally gets buckets in Team USA win

Jimmy Butler finally gets buckets in Team USA win

Bulls fans know Jimmy Butler is legit after watching his transformation from a role-playing defensive specialist to a 20 PPG scorer and two-time All-Star. But casual fans tuning in to watch the Olympic competition got a chance to witness all the qualities Butler brings to the table in Team USA’s 113-69 rout of Venezuela on Monday.

Like most of the NBA stars on the roster, Butler has the ability to drive by an initial defender almost any time he wants. But during Team USA’s exhibition schedule, and in the Olympic opener against China, Butler had been content to simply drive into the lane and kick the ball back out to an open 3 point shooter. He’s been the poster child for the type of unselfish play advocated by Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.

In Monday’s win over Venezuela, Butler finally took advantage of some of his scoring chances, knocking down a 3-pointer when the game was still close in the first half, and converting a pair of old-fashioned 3-point plays to help Team USA break the game wide open after intermission. Butler finished with 17 points, second only to Paul George’s 20 for the U.S. side, and his defensive play continues to be outstanding.

[SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler Team USA shirt]

With former Bulls’ coach Tom Thibodeau directing the defensive efforts, Team USA has been an active, swarming force, able to keep the opposition from getting good shots with pressure on ballhandlers, and excellent rim protection from big men DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins. Butler has teamed with aggressive wing players like Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green to cut off passing lanes and come up with steals to ignite a lethal fastbreak attack.

It’s been kind of funny hearing the familiar sound of Thibodeau’s voice barking out defensive instructions, even with Team USA in total control. After a year away from the court, Thibs is still a perfectionist, and his defense-first philosophy is more important than ever in these Olympics. Without some of the elite NBA scorers like Steph Curry, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook on the roster, this version of the “Dream Team” model is keyed by its work on the defensive end, and Butler fits right in with that approach.

Krzyzewski commented early in training camp that he didn’t know Butler was such a complete player and raved about the work Butler put in to become a star. As the games have gone on, Butler has become a critical part of Team USA’s second unit, with his defensive ability and unselfishness complementing the skills of DeRozan, George and Kyle Lowry.

The Americans will get their toughest test on Wednesday against a rugged Australia squad, led by NBA big men Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes, along with feisty point guard Matthew Dellavedova and 3-point specialist Patty Mills. The Aussies have already blown out France and Serbia, and they won’t be overpowered inside by Team USA. Former Bulls champion Luc Longley is an assistant coach for Australia, and said his players will get a true measure of just how good they are defensively against a team loaded with NBA All-Stars.

As for the Aussies chances of upsetting the heavily favored Americans, Longley said simply, “It’s always possible, mate. There are no impossibilities in basketball.”

Back to Butler, he’s not all that concerned about how many points he scores during the Olympic tournament, he just wants to come home with a gold medal draped around his neck. Butler’s role with the Bulls will most certainly change in the upcoming season with the addition of 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade and four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo. The 6-7 swingman will be moving back to his original NBA position at small forward and he’ll be asked to knock down more catch and shoot jumpers than he has in the past.

Butler is only a 33 percent 3-point shooter over his first five seasons in the NBA, but after watching him improve every year he’s been in the league, don’t bet against him becoming a consistent threat from beyond the arc. Right now, it sounds like most of the national experts are dismissing the chances of the Bulls being more than a seventh or eighth seed in the East. But as you watch Jimmy Butler fit in with some of the game’s biggest stars during these Olympics, it’s exciting to think what he’ll be able to do teaming up with Wade, Rondo and some emerging young players next season.

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again


Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:

Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.