Bulls fans are just happy to have a healthy Derrick Rose so far in these playoffs. Hopefully they aren’t sleeping on Jimmy Butler, though, who has emerged as their best player while leading his team to a 2-0 series lead over the Bucks.
On a team with Rose, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, it’s easy to forget about Butler at times. It shouldn’t be.
At 25-years old, Butler broke out for the Bulls this season, averaging 20 points per game and making the All-Star team (and is expected to make another all-defensive team). The Bulls were expecting this breakout to a degree — it was a huge factor in them trading away Luol Deng last season and offering Butler a contract extension — but Chicago may be even smarter than it thought it is, because Butler is now emerging as a superstar.
In Game 1, despite Rose grabbing the headlines (and rightfully so), Butler still led the Bulls with 25 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go along with six assists and two boards. He was even better in Game 2, dropping 31 points on 10-for-19 shooting with nine rebounds and two assists this time.
An easy indicator of Butler’s value? His minutes. Tom Thibodeau couldn’t take him off the floor in Game 2, playing Butler almost the entire game. In his 46 minutes, Butler was a game-high in plus/minus with a plus-12, and also leads the series with a plus-23 overall.
At a time when the rest of the league is drooling over Kawhi Leonard, Butler may have just as much potential. Oddly enough, both players were under looked in the 2011 NBA draft — Leonard slipped to 15th overall and Butler was the last pick of the first-round at 30th. Kawhi seems to be getting most of the attention — and he deserves attention with the way he’s played and the fact that he’s and NBA Finals MVP — but Butler could easily turn out to be a very similar player.
No one deserves the rise to stardom more than Butler. Long story short, his father abandon his family when he was a child and then his mother kicked him out of the house when he was 13-years old. Butler bounced around staying with friends until a family finally took him in before his senior year of high school. He then went to junior college before earning a scholarship to Marquette and becoming a first-round pick by Chicago.
And after overcoming all odds, Butler figures to make a LOT of money this offseason (likely in the $96M range after declining a $40M extension before the season). But with the season Butler has had, and the way he’s improved his game when it counts most, Butler has become one of the most in-demand young stars in the league.
Despite being thrown into the real world at a young age, Butler’s been a late bloomer his entire basketball life. If his track record tells us anything, he’s going to overcome whatever comes his way to be worth every penny that he gets this summer.
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