Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Last year, Jimmy Butler had to compete with Derrick Rose for touches. Then for a brief period this offseason, it looked like Butler was going to be the primary ball handler. Very brief.
The Chicago Bulls traded Rose, but then they signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. And now, no one knows what is happening. Both Rondo and Wade declare it’s still Butler’s team, but we’ll see how that holds up over the course of a season. Nevertheless, he’s the best player on the team. What will 2016-17 bring for him?
When Butler played and Rose didn’t last year, he went for 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists per game. You can make the case that if he had the kind of usage that some of the other top 10 players have, he could post similar numbers. But the problem is he doesn’t get the same number of touches. While he was 18th in scoring, there were 38 players who scored fewer points but had a higher usage percentage than his 24.4. Butler doesn’t need a lot more touches, but he does need more to hit his ceiling.
The problem is with Wade and Rondo in the fold, you now have three players who are most effective when they have the ball. There are ways it could work to Butler’s benefit, but it has to be a “perfect” scenario to work out. Rondo is more of a pass-first point guard, so Butler should get more catch-and-shoot chances. Last year, he struggled with his shot (in part, due to injury), but in 2014-15 he shot an effective field goal percentage of 55.3 percent off the pass, per tracking data at NBA.com. If he can develop a good working relationship with both Rondo and Wade (who also is a well-reputed passer), he’s the most likely of the three to develop a catch-and-shoot game. But that’s a perfect-case scenario, and it’s not probable. There’s a chance he could fall out of All-Star status if he doesn’t mesh.
Butler has a lot of offensive talent. And the more the Bulls go to him, the better he tends to be. He had a 40-point half against the Toronto Raptors and a 53-point game against the Philadelphia 76ers last season. Butler is not a particularly good shooter, but he’s an efficient scorer because of his ability to draw fouls. His .484 free throw rate is 10th in history among players who attempted at least 10 shots per game and shot over 80 percent from the stripe.
He goes a little too “Kobe Bryant” at times, trying to back down defenders and post them up (.86 points per possession) or run too much isolation (.91 PPP). While he’s comparatively efficient at both of those plays for that play type, the play types are not very efficient. But overall he’s a reliable, efficient scorer who takes care of the ball (9.6 turnover percentage).
Butler originally broke out as a defensive player, and he’s still one of the better wing defenders in the league. His 0.89 DRPM was 10th among shooting guards last year, but that was without him having many benefits of real help behind him. Pau Gasol was a good rim protector but wore cement blocks for shoes.
There were times when Butler seemed to go on autopilot on defense, though, some of that seemed to be frustration with the overall lack of anyone else guarding anyone. Still, he defended 12.5 shots per game, which was one of the highest totals in the league for guards. And while his opponents shot two percent above their season average against him, it’s hard to pin that on him for the reasons mentioned above. The Bulls gave up 1.7 more points per 100 possessions when he sat on the bench, and that probably understates his value.
It’s not just the impressive percentage, but also the volume. Butler is a lockdown defender against the league’s very best wings. The only one who’s had a modicum of success is Kevin Durant (29-of-54), whose length causes Butler problems. Overall, though, Butler can be likened to Tony Allen if he could score.