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.
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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.