Chicago Bulls sophomore Jimmy Butler averaged 8.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in the regular season. Nothing notable there, right? But he stepped up his production in the playoffs posting game averages of 13.3 points and 5.2 rebounds. The man Stacey King calls Jimmy “Buckets” tied the record for consecutive playoff games clocking 48 minutes. The 2012-13 season was a coming out party for someone who defied the odds, became the 30th overall pick and solidified a spot in the Bulls starting lineup for years to come. The other end of the spectrum is former league MVP Derrick Rose, who missed the entire season and was called every foul name in the book, from soft and mentally weak to selfish superstar. Once Rose finally steps back on the court, all will be forgiven but his reputation took a blow this year that knocked him down for the first time in his short professional career.
Jimmy Butler showed the offensive skills of a better than average guard this season. A decent short-range jumper – .467 percentage – coupled with an average three-point shot – .381 percentage – makes him less than a sharpshooter but more than a single-minded, drive only threat. Butler’s quickness isn’t mind-blowing but his instincts and decent dribble-drive allows him to get to the rim and his athleticism lets him to finish strong. Defensively, his heft and height allows him to cover both shooting guards and small forwards, evident by his time spent on both James and Wade in the playoffs. In his rookie season, Butler looked stiff – think James Johnson – but his sophomore season proved he just needed time to adjust to the speed of the game. Beyond the numbers, Jimmy Butler showed the intangibles of a starting NBA player. The guard has the heart of a competitor and the will to win. The playoffs proved out that premise and then some. When no one else wanted to take the shot, Butler had the guts to do so. And when Deng wasn’t available to defend LeBron James, Butler did it without backing down. He belongs in the National Basketball Association. He knew it all along and now so does the rest of the league. This season was a validation of the years of work Butler has put into the game. Next season will be a whole new challenge. Integrating with the franchise player and living up to new expectations won’t be easy. The league won’t sleep on him come next fall. Rest assured, Jimmy himself won’t sleep much either as he prepares to come back even better than what we all last witnessed.
Jimmy Butler was one of few feel good basketball stories in Chicago this season. In contrast, Derrick Rose was the limp that you couldn’t shake, the last hiccup in your throat that never came. His story, or non-story as it were, was always there lurking in the shadows of the Bulls up-and-down 2012-13 season. What started out as Rose’s well-hyped Adidas campaign – #thereturn – became a daily, will-he-won’t-he return, discussion in Chicago. The media and fans alike expected him back shortly after the All Star break and sources suggested he was medically cleared to play in early March. The All Star break came-and-went and Rose only practiced with the team. The term ‘mentally weak’ started being associated with his name, something unimaginable in years past. Unphased by the criticism, Derrick Rose stayed off the court and, for the most part, kept his own commentary to himself and his trusted circle. As the regular season came to a close, there was still no certainty of a Rose return and the theme turned from ‘mentally weak’ to ‘selfish superstar’. The playoffs brought with it a rash of Bulls injuries from Joakim Noah’s plantar fasciitis and Kirk Hinrich’s calf injury to Luol Deng’s spinal tap complications and Nate Robinson’s flu bug. The call for Rose to help the limping Bulls became louder-and-louder. But neither he nor the Bulls would say anything definitive about whether he would return for either the Nets or the Heat series. Short-handed, gutsy victories were applauded but dampened by the cloud of Rose’s mysterious absence. The post-season finally concluded with a 4-1 Miami Heat close out win on May 15th and brought an end to the Derrick Rose come back discussion. Why Rose’s camp and the Bulls front office never released a definitive statement about his return and why he never played a game is a mystery that will likely remain unsolved. Contrary to Jimmy Butler’s story is Derrick Rose’s failed #thereturn campaign. He and his reputation will both bounce back but, unlike Butler who will remember the past seven months fondly, Rose needs to erase the memories of this season from his mind for all our sakes.
Will Rose return to form come next season’s first tip-off or take a couple of months to regain his killer instinct? Will Jimmy Butler remain in the starting lineup or be a spark plug off the bench? A starting lineup of Rose-Butler-Deng-Boozer-Noah sounds good to me. But how will the retooled Bulls bench look? And how will the new backcourt mesh? So… what do you think?