Bulls

Jimmy Butler’s battle cry: 'I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world'

Jimmy Butler’s battle cry: 'I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world'

PORTLAND — Jimmy Butler came into this season firmly planted amongst the Top 25 players in the NBA and depending on who you ask, maybe he was a bit higher.

With his play taking yet another leap after so many massive ones already, perhaps it’s time he be mentioned in a higher context.

Since he called himself out to be more aggressive following a blowout loss to the Pacers on the second half of a back-to-back, Butler’s numbers have risen. Averaging 28.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists represents one of the best stretches of his career to date.

He was asked about being ranked in the Top 10 of NBA players this season, and wasn’t shy about it.

“Do I dispute it? No. Do I believe it? Of course,” said Butler to CSNChicago.com following a morning practice at the University of Portland Wednesday. “I think you can ask people we have on this team, I walk around and say certain things I really mean.”

Things like?

“I’m not gonna tell you exactly what I say but I think you know what I’m talking about,” Butler said. “I don’t talk about it in public. But between these guys, they know how I feel, they know the way I go about the game and how I love it and how I love being better. I place myself where I place it and I hope my game continues to speak.”

The quote Butler didn’t want to say but one that has been heard by teammates more than a few times: “I’m the best (bleeping) player in the world.”

Butler’s never been one to say anyone’s better than him, and certainly his confidence is warranted. He was drenched in sweat after staying longer than anybody to get up extra shots following Wednesday’s practice and it’s no secret he considers himself a true franchise player.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

If performances like these can stay to some level of consistency, it’ll be harder to deny that he belongs in the same conversation as the one-name superstars like LeBron (James), Steph (Curry), Kevin (Durant), Russell (Westbrook) and 2015-16 MVP runner-up Kawhi Leonard, the player widely regarded as the best two-way player in basketball.

“I think you look at this last stretch, averaging 29 over the last six games. He’s just doing it so many different ways,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’re using him in the post, we’re using him as a facilitator. I love the 12 rebounds (Monday against the Blazers) where he’s pushing the ball down the floor without an outlet. We’re isolating him a lot. Just his overall game, you gotta give him all the credit in the world for the work ethic and everything he’s put in to make himself the complete player he is.”

His teammates are following him, probably the most understated part of this season compared to last. Butler doesn’t have to convince them he can lead them to a top spot in the Eastern Conference anymore; they see it and so far, he’s been a better teammate and the resistance this season compared to last has been nil.

“I'm surprised at how mature he is,” said Bulls forward Taj Gibson, who worked out with Butler over the summer. “He's a lot more mature than he was, as far as being how he's been with the guys, how he's communicating. He's always critiquing the game, but he's always positive. Last year, he had his times when he was questioning things, and he didn't know how to let it out. But this year, having D-Wade I think helps him a lot. And then you can learn from it and understand it. And (Team) USA helped him out big time.”

Butler doesn’t doubt the production is sustainable, as it seems like he’s found easier ways to score without being so taxed — almost like finding some secret only a few guys know and refuse to share.

“I think so. I work at that,” Butler said. “I work to catch what those guys are doing, to perform at the highest level like those guys. I take notice. I watch, I learn from those guys as much as I learn from players from the past. So I put myself in that category.”

The same category as multiple-time MVP’s and first-ballot Hall of Famers? Butler doesn’t flinch.

Privately, he chafed at the notion he couldn’t be a franchise player or that he somehow plateaued because of where he started. He simply thinks everybody else is late to the party of the Butler takeover.

“Yeah, if I go at the game with the same mentality, like Dwyane (Wade) told me, every time you step on the floor, you gotta have the mentality that you’re the best player out there,” Butler said. “You gotta be out there to prove that point every single night, every single day in practice. That’s what I’m working to be. I want to be the first guy in the gym, the last game to leave, studying film and having a killer mentality.”

Bulls' Zach LaVine to participate in players-only NBA2K tournament on ESPN

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USA Today

Bulls' Zach LaVine to participate in players-only NBA2K tournament on ESPN

Monday night, Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports reported that the NBA and ESPN were partnering up to broadcast an NBA2K tournament this coming Friday.

That news appears to be official now, via a post from The Boardroom's (an ESPN talkshow hosted by Kevin Durant) official Twitter account:

Most notably: Zach LaVine is in! He'll enter the tourney as a No. 7 seed (typical) and take on 10-seeded Deandre Ayton in what I can only describe as an absolutely wonky first-round bout.

In fact, a lot of these matchups are unusual. Towards the top of the bracket, we've got No. 3 Hassan Whiteside taking on No. 14 Patrick Beverly (Chicago, stand up) and No. 2 Trae Young squaring off with No. 15 Harrison Barnes. Andre Drummond vs. DeMarcus Cousins should be a bruising affair, too. Durant and Devin Booker (keep an eye on him vs. Michael Porter Jr. as a fun matchup) are also set to participate, in terms of big-name players.

While no details as to how the tournament will be formatted have been officially disclosed yet, it appears each matchup will consist of a 1-on-1 blacktop game with players controlling themselves. 

The Boardroom's tweet says the tournament is "starting" this Friday, so it's possible this is a multi-night affair. We'll take anything we can get at this point.

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Bulls questions: Evaluating last offseason's additions and their long-term fit

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USA Today

Bulls questions: Evaluating last offseason's additions and their long-term fit

Two times per week, we'll be breaking down a pertinent Bulls question for you all to chew in during the NBA's hiatus.

Past installments: What is Zach LaVine's ceiling? | Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

The buzz around the 2019-20 Bulls season crescendoed last offseason. With a promising core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. already in place, the addition of the electric Coby White through the draft and savvy, supplementary vets through free agency appeared to add up to a winning formula for the third year of the rebuild. 

That calculation was, of course, made on paper. In practice… Well, you saw the results. 

But how did each of the Bulls’ additions for the 2019-20 seasons perform? How should they fit into the team’s long-term plans? Let’s evaluate (all contract figures via Spotrac):

Thad Young — signed to a three-year, $44 million contract last summer (third year partially guaranteed at $6 million)

Young’s season can pretty tidily be divided into three subsections (all per game averages):

  • First 24 games: 21.2 minutes, 8.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 0.9 steals; 40.9/34.2/56.7 shooting splits (8.5 attempts)

  • Next 21 games: 23.7 minutes, 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 steals; 43.3/34.8/64.7 shooting splits (8.9 attempts)

  • Next 19 games: 30.8 minutes (15 starts), 13.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 steals; 49.8/37.7/56 (11.1 attempts); 17 double-digit scoring performances

Those segments aren’t arbitrary. The first 24 represented approximately the first third of Young’s eventual 64-game season. At that tentpole, he was averaging the second-lowest minutes total of his 13-year career (to only his rookie campaign), and looked largely uncomfortable navigating the Bulls’ up-tempo, 3-pointer heavy offensive system.

Segment two begins on Dec. 11, when Young logged a then season high 33 minutes in a 35-point home victory over the lowly Hawks, notching 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists. The next day, a report surfaced from the Chicago Sun-Times that Young was unhappy with his playing time allotment — a report that Young addressed at length to the media soon afterwards. From there, trade rumors and rumblings of broken promises festered around Young. Through it all, he remained publicly professional and, by all accounts, a keen advisor to many of the Bulls’ young players behind the scenes. Meanwhile, his play subtly began to improve, especially on the defensive end, with a modest uptick in minutes.

The start of segment three is marked by Lauri Markkanen being sidelined for a little over a month with an early stress reaction in his pelvis. Young started 15 games in his stead and played his best ball of the season, even as the Bulls, at large, floundered. The correlation between increased opportunity and production is one Young never shied away from drawing.

 

The question for him moving forward is if his interests and the Bulls’ are at odds. In its totality, this wasn’t the season Young or fans expected from him, but he proved he has enough left in the tank to be a contributor to winning basketball. If the Bulls aren’t ready to do that, the question of a long-term fit here is a legitimate one. Juggling Young and Markkanen’s minutes was already a point of friction this season, and if anything, Markkanen should be doing more next year. Plus, what if the Bulls invest their impending top-10 draft choice on a forward? Though they couldn’t find any takers for Young at the deadline, finding an outlet for the final two years of his deal (and finding him a winning situation) could be on the team’s radar.

Tomas Satoransky — signed to a three-year, $30 million contract last summer (third year partially guaranteed at $5 million)

The specter of Satoransky was always an intriguing one. A low-maintenance, pass-first, heady floor general to start alongside Zach LaVine while White developed in the wings. Facilitate, hit open jumpers and defend at a clip reasonable for his 6’7” frame, and Satoransky would be the quintessential complementary piece.

And while he showed flashes — a 27-point, nine-assist outing in Atlanta (oh man, is there a trend here?) and multiple stat sheet-stuffings against the Wizards — his production largely didn’t pass the sniff test. Among the most alarming figures from Satoransky’s first season in Chicago: From Dec. 1 on, Satoransky shot 26.8 percent from 3-point range (3.1 attempts per); on the season, he converted 32.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point looks — a steep dive from his 42.8 percent career mark entering the season (a huge part of what made him such an intriguing option in the first place). Moreover, his general assertiveness on the offensive end often seemed to wax and wane at times.

A positive: If this rebuild has proved anything, it’s that availability is an ability, and Satoransky was certainly that. He and White were the only two Bulls to appear in all of the team’s first 65 games before play was indefinitely suspended. In the final game before that suspension, Satoransky gracefully ceded the starting spot — a title he coveted upon signing with the Bulls — to White, admitting he hadn’t performed up to his personal expectations this season. He’s another guy that draws rave reviews from teammates and coaches at every turn.

As of the Bulls’ current roster construction, Satoransky continuing to back up White is probably the team’s best course moving forward, though that’s subject to change depending on how the Bulls deploy that aforementioned top-10 pick. Him running the team’s second unit can still be a winning formula, and $10 million next season with a non-guaranteed third year isn’t the end of the world.

Luke Kornet — signed to a two-year, $4.5 million contract last summer (fully guaranteed)

To say Kornet didn’t meet expectations doesn’t feel fair. He was always a low-risk flyer, and the emergence of Daniel Gafford softened the blow of his tumultuous campaign.

What’s more, he overcame a debilitating nasal ailment that marred his first three months in Chicago to flash spurts of productivity in January and February. After Carter badly sprained his right ankle on Jan. 6, Kornet re-entered the rotation for 19 games and averaged 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and nearly a block per game while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and making 14 starts. A severe right ankle sprain sustained in practice ended his season in late February.

The 3-point shooting never came around — he converted a career-low 28.7 percent of his long-range attempts, and only 30.4 percent in that aforementioned 19-game stretch. The Bulls’ blitzing defensive system that draws bigs up and away from the basket is not suited to his strengths. He’s not on the short-list of the Bulls’ biggest problems, but isn’t a part of the long-term solution either.

Non-Coby rookies

Bonus section for the non-Coby White rookies, because they warrant mention (and White’s going to get his own column soon enough):

  • Daniel Gafford: A gem if the Bulls have ever found one. Scooped up with the No. 38 pick of the 2019 draft, Gafford led all rookies in total blocks (56) and players with more than 20 games played in blocks per 36 minutes (3.3) while clawing his way into the Bulls’ rotation after starting the season off the map. His energy, high-flying capacity and rim-protecting potential make him an incredibly viable — if not ideal — cost-controlled backup center option. First on the to-do list for year two is working on limiting his fouls, but he exceeded expectations this season (something not many Bulls can say) and should figure into the team’s plans for at least the immediate future. 

  • Adam Mokoka: Signed to a two-way deal for this season, and appeared in 11 games as the Bulls balanced his NBA days down the stretch. It would have been nice to see more of him. Two times Mokoka caught eyes over the course of this season — once with a record-setting 15-point outburst against the Pelicans in February, then with lockdown defense on Luka Doncic to key one of the Bulls’ few quality wins of the season. If the team decides to let Kris Dunn walk this offseason, Mokoka (along with Shaq Harrison) is a young, potentially inexpensive option already on the roster to try and replace some percentage of Dunn’s production and defensive energy. And not for nothing: Mokoka has a solid stroke and shot 40 percent from 3-point range (15 total attempts) in those 11 games. A heftier 31-game sample size in the G League saw him convert 32.7 percent of his long-range looks on 5.4 attempts per game, but there’s cause to believe that can be built upon.

  • Max Strus: Another two-way guy, and a local product. But he tore his ACL in December after appearing in just two NBA games. It’s hard to discern what Strus’ future with the Bulls might be, but he has been a consistent presence around the United and Advocate Centers throughout his rehab process.

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