Bulls

Report: Bulls' Jimmy Butler to be named Most Improved Player

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Report: Bulls' Jimmy Butler to be named Most Improved Player

Jimmy Butler's career year will earn him some hardware as well

Butler is expected to be named the NBA's Most Improved Player, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.

In his fourth NBA season the 25-year-old Butler averaged 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He increased his field goal percentage more than six percentage points, from 39.7 percent in 2013-14 to 46.2 percent this season. Butler also led the NBA in minutes per game for the second straight year, with his offensive outburst transforming him into one of the league's top two-way guards.

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jimmy Butler jersey!]

Butler's breakout season couldn't have gotten off to a better start, with the 6-foot-5 guard earning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for the season's first month (October/November), averaging 21.9 points on 50 percent shooting. He was just as good in December, averaged 21.5 points in nearly 41 minutes per game while keeping the Bulls afloat amidst numerous injuries to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. He was named an Eastern Conference All-Star in February.

Though his production dipped some after the All-Star break, and he was sidelined for 11 games after suffering a hyperextended elbow in March. He returned to average 19.7 points in the Bulls' final 11 games in which the team went 8-3 to earn the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Butler proved his regular season was no fluke by dominating the Bulls' first-round series with the Bucks. In the six-game set Butler averaged 24.1 points on 47 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He set his playoff career high in Game 2 when he netted 31 points in a win. He's now tabbed with slowing down LeBron James in their second round series with the Cavaliers.

[PLAYOFFS: Butler tasked with slowing down LeBron James]

Butler has come a long way since his arrival in Chicago. A first-round selection in 2011, Butler averaged just 8.5 minutes as a rookie. He saw an uptick in playing time in his second year, appearing in all 82 games (20 as a starter) as a valuable defensive stalwart off the bench. He entered the starting lineup in Year 3, averaging 13.1 points before showing flashes of greatness in that year's playoffs, averaging 13.6 points.

Previous Most Improved Player winners include Goran Dragic (2014), Paul George (2013), Ryan Anderson (2012) and Kevin Love (2011). Bulls reverse point guard Aaron Brooks won the award in 2010 as a member of the Houston Rockets. Butler is the first player to win the award as a member of the Bulls.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

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USA Today

Bulls coach Jim Boylen stumps for Rudy Tomjanovich's Hall of Fame bid

In case you forgot, Jim Boylen once worked for Rudy Tomjanovich. In fact, the former Rockets coach gave Boylen his NBA start, hiring him as an assistant coach and video coordinator way back in 1992.

Boylen saw first-hand the coaching chops and commitment Tomjanovich displayed as the Rockets won back-to-back NBA titles while Michael Jordan was playing baseball in the mid-1990s. So it's beyond loyalty when Boylen says he believes, like many others, that Tomjanovich belongs in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The organization named Tomjanovich a finalist over All-Star weekend in Chicago.

[RELATED: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett highlight Hall of Fame finalists]

"He's deserving," Boylen said. "I don't know why he's not in there yet. It doesn't make sense to me. Two championships, a gold medal."

That's a reference to Tomjanovich coaching USA Basketball's gold-medal winning team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Tomjanovich is an occasional visitor to the Advocate Center to watch Boylen.

"What he did with those Rockets teams and his playoff games — sixth seed in '95 — nobody's duplicated that. To win it from the sixth seed, play on the road like we did," Boylen said. "He has an unbelievable record in elimination games, which I think is a true test of your coaching and being able to communicate your message. I think he's getting in."

Does Boylen possess inside information?

"No," Boylen said, smiling. "He's due."

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Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Injury notes: Latest on Wendell Carter, Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn

Jim Boylen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. spent the majority of their time speaking to media after the team’s first post-All-Star break practice laying a trail of injury-related tea leaves.

Carter has been sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 6, and Porter hasn’t played since spraining his foot on Nov. 6. Both took part in practice (which featured “some contact” according to Boylen) and are inching closer to respective returns, though nothing is official as of yet.

"Otto participated in practice and got his legs underneath him. Wendell, we kinda put him in for two possessions, then take him out for two and kinda getting him back comfortable," Boylen said.

“Just taking it one day at a time,” said Carter, who said on the Friday of All-Star weekend that he was shooting for a return this Thursday (Feb. 20) against the Hornets. “I practiced today and it felt okay, so I'm just taking it slow. Don't want to rush anything, and end up hurting again, so that's where I'm at right now.

“Depending on the coaching staff, depending on how I'm feeling come game time, of course I want to play Thursday, but I'm [going to] do what's best for the team and for myself."

Boylen declined to say officially whether Carter will be available Thursday, also taking a “we’ll see” approach. Carter is about six weeks into his initial four-to-six week recovery timeline.

Porter, who said he’s “close” to 100 percent, doesn’t yet know when he’ll be back and that “time will tell” how many practices he needs before sliding back into the Bulls’ lineup. He remains without a timetable, and said he is unsure if he’ll be eased back in on a minutes restriction when he is able to return.

“I was able to do everything. I feel good,” Porter said. “I’ll continue it a day at a time, making sure my pain is free."

When asked, Boylen said he doesn’t yet have a clear idea of when Lauri Markkanen (who has been out with a pelvis injury since Jan. 24) might return to practice. This Friday marks four weeks into Markkanen’s initial four-to-six week timeline

There was also no update on Kris Dunn on the two-week anniversary of his initial two-week re-examination timeline for a sprained right MCL suffered against the Nets on Jan. 31.

[RELATED: Bulls preparing for possibility of losing Kris Dunn for rest of season]

Still, things are moving in the right direction for the Bulls on the injury front. The team entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak that ties a season-high, but Boylen maintained playing competitive basketball down the stretch remains a goal. At 19-36, they will resume play five games behind the Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I think doing both, I think that's what our challenge is this year,” Boylen said of the team’s dual objectives of winning and developing. “Part of development is you hope to play in some meaningful games, and we've had a couple of those situations this year compared to last year, and I'm hoping we can have more. I'm hoping.

"Health is part of that and just getting better. I got a good group of guys that play hard, and we gotta continue to do that, and hopefully improve as we go down the stretch here.”

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