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 Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Zach LaVine's comments after 10th straight loss

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NBC Sports Chicago

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Reaction to Zach LaVine's comments after 10th straight loss

Matt Peck, David Watson and John Sabine feel the Heat after Dwyane Wade and Co. hand the Bulls their 10th straight defeat. Plus, they react to LaVine's comments on the state of the Bulls (1:30), how they feel about stars speaking out (4:55) and Matt wants a new coach next season (6:48).
How can the Bulls attract free agents to this losing culture to improve on their young core (11:35)? Plus, why does it feel like the Bulls get more criticism than the Knicks (16:02)?

The big story was D-Wade's farewell game at the United Center. Watson explains why he's pro-Wade (18:30). Peck provides the rebuttal (19:29). Finally, Watson notes that Markkanen may be struggling to find chemistry with Kris Dunn (25:10).

Don't forget, you can watch Bulls Outsiders after Bulls Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago following every game. You can also stream the show on Facebook Live and interact with Matt, John and David.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Kris Dunn's midrange game has disappeared, and that's spelled disaster for his overall game

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USA TODAY

Kris Dunn's midrange game has disappeared, and that's spelled disaster for his overall game

No player was happier to return home from the Bulls' 0-5 West Coast road trip than Kris Dunn.

Dunn began the trip with a nice 15-point, seven-assist performance in Portland but was a disaster in the remaining four games, averaging 7.0 points on 31.4 percent shooting and 5.0 assists.

But his struggles continued on Wednesday night against a tough Miami Heat defense. Dunn started strong but disappeared after the first quarter, finishing with 6 points on 3 of 14 shooting and 5 assists in 33 minutes. The scoring output marked the fourth time in the last five games he's scored 6 points and the shooting was his worst of the year.

"Definitely going through it," Dunn said after the game. "It's part of the NBA. It's on me to find a way to get out of it. I feel like I'm getting to my spots and it's just not knocking down right now."

Dunn is getting to his spots, but that also might be part of the problem. In his first 13 games back from a sprained MCL he averaged 14.2 points on 50 percent shooting. That included 54 percent shooting on shots 8 to 16 feet away, per NBA.com. That number led the Bulls and was actually fourth in the NBA among players attempting at least 2 of those shots per game (Gay, Clarkson, McConnell were ahead of him) and ahead of players like Kyrie Irving (51.8%), Donovan Mitchell (50%) and Derrick Rose (49%).

But since that West Coast trip began Dunn has hit a wall on those shots. He's made just 30 percent of those attempts, 56th best among those with 2 or more attempts per game. It's only a five-game sample size, compared to 13 when that shot was falling, but the larger issue is that Dunn relies so heavily on them.

Among qualified full-time starting point guards, Dunn's 1.4 3-point attempts per game are second fewest. Only Ben Simmons, who hasn't attempted a 3-pointer this year, is behind Dunn.

And among those same point guards, Dunn's 1.7 free throw attempts per game are fourth fewest. Only De'Anthony Melton, Lonzo Ball and Bryn Forbes have attempted fewer per game than Dunn.

His midrange field goal percentage was eventually going to regress. He's always looked comfortable on those floaters and stepback 12-to-15 footers, but even last year he made just 39.3 percent of those 8 to 16 foot shots. That 54 percent clip was unsustainable, and when Dunn doesn't have that going he really isn't a threat to score anywhere else on the floor.

He's averaging a team-best 13.8 drives per game, per NBA.com, which is also 14th in the NBA and puts him in the same company as players like Jeff Teague and Chris Paul. He's ahead of players such as Mike Conley, De'Aaron Fox and Damian Lillard, so aggressiveness hasn't been the issue.

Dunn's midrange shot has abandoned him, and yet he hasn't been to the free throw line in his last 81 game minutes spanning two-plus games. His last attempts came with 3 minutes left in the second quarter against the Lakers. He's also attempted just four 3-pointers (going 1-for-4) in his last 170 minutes spanning five games; in Saturday night's loss Heat guard Tyler Johnson attempted four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter (and made three of them).

He quite simply isn't a versatile scoring threat, and his one trick has disappeared. This wouldn't be as big an issue if Dunn were an exceptional passer, facilitating the offense and finding open shooters. And while Dunn certainly has had some nice passing nights - and he's inside the top 20 in assists per game despite playing in an offense without a ton of shooters -  it hasn't been nearly enough to overcome his scoring woes.

Life in today's NBA means getting scoring from the point guard position, and Dunn is failing in that regard. Perhaps his midrange touch will find itself, but the more likely scenario is Dunn needing to be more aggressive on all those drives he's taking, getting to the free throw line more and initiating some of the action on his own.

It's unlikely he'll ever become a reliable source of 3-point shooting - he's down to 32.1 percent from deep this season, same as last - but even some improvement in that area will go a long way.

"He knows he can play better. He wants to play better," Jim Boylen said after Saturday's loss. "He takes ownership of his play. That’s one thing I like about him. We gotta keep supporting him, we gotta keep coaching him. That’s what this is all about."