In an interview with Sam Smith of Bulls.com, Jimmy Butler made statements which have some people thinking that he’s gunning for the Chicago Bulls point guard job, adding to speculation that there is “beef” between him and former MVP Derrick Rose. Is there truth to that?
Steven J. Gaither of Sporting News slightly misquoted Butler from Smith’s piece, and it led to some confusion. Gaither quoted Jimmy saying:
“I want some triple doubles. I’ve got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys where they can make shots,” he said before adding that he told new coach Fred Hoiberg he wants to play the point.
The confusion comes in that last part, with the use of the word “wants.” It’s a subtle yet important distinction. If I say I want to be an NBA player, it’s very different than if I say I am an NBA player. The first implies a change; the second does not.
So, what did Butler actually say?
First off, I think I am a point guard. So I’ve done a heck of a lot of ball screen work, ball handling, getting into the paint and still handling, floaters, all that stuff point guards do. If I get a chance, high pick and roll more.
Now, standing alone, you can still argue this is just parsing words, but not in the entire context of the interview. Here are a few quotes from the article:
First the Rose stuff. Butler says it’s all nonsense. He says he and Rose would laugh about it, but it is becoming tiresome having to field the questions again.
Laugh about it.
“We didn’t win; that’s it,” Butler said in a cut-it-out tone. “When you don’t win somebody has to find something to blame it on because we had a very good team, and we were supposed to win. So why not throw out a guy like myself, who had a pretty decent year, and Derrick coming back and say they were clashing. That was a story everyone wanted to talk about, and it worked. Everybody is fine. We just want to win. I laugh at it. I know what’s really going on. Everybody doesn’t. He knows. We’re fine. Whenever we win, all of this is going right out the window. We start winning at the beginning of the season; it’s not an issue anymore.”
Even if you want to argue that he was just being political, and saying what he’s “supposed” to say he’s not going to turn around 30 seconds later and say he’s gunning for Rose’s job.
So what did he mean then? In the current basketball world, positions are less and less meaningful. What a player can do with the ball is far more meaningful that where he’s technically lining up. Butler seems to be saying that in his mind, he’s a point guard, and he wants to do more point guardy things.
Maybe—and this might seem naïve in the Internet age—he meant what he said. And frankly, that’s a good deal. As Randall Sherman, a college coaching expert, elucidated in my interview with him, Fred Hoiberg likes to run a lot of sets using a point forward. For example, see these two plays with Georges Niang filling the role:
In particular, the second play is easy to see Butler and Rose running together.
There’s a perception that sharing the ball is inherently competitive between the two, when, in reality, it means good things for both of them. Butler didn’t say he wants some 40-point games. He said he wants some triple-doubles.
He’s not wanting more point guard duties so he can score more, but so he can pass more. And frankly, that’s the sort of thing which can benefit Rose.
Not only is Butler better at drawing contact off drives and getting to the stripe (his free-throw rate was .338 to Rose’s .166 last year), putting the ball in his hands more means Rose absorbing less contact. That means a more efficient offense and less chance of Rose getting hurt. Those are two huge positives from Butler sharing the responsibility of running the offense.
Also, if Butler has the ball more, the Bulls can do some pretty impressive things with drifting Rose out to the weak side. Imagine him getting the pass with only one defender in front of him and no one protecting the rim? He doesn’t often get such opportunities.
When you don’t “read between the lines” (which often just is a nice way of saying re-invent what’s been said) Butler wasn’t saying anything controversial. In fact, Bulls fans should be encouraged that he’s looking to expand his game and become a better passer.