Why Jimmy Butler Is Underrated
Ever since the Bulls drafted him with the number one overall pick in the 2008 draft, everything in Chicago has revolved around Derrick Rose. From his rise to stardom in 2008 and 2009, to his MVP season in 2010, to his injury plagued seasons from 2011 to this very day, Rose is one of the most popular topics in the Chicago media. I can't argue against that. He's a former MVP and the best player Bulls fans have seen since Mr. Jordan himself. When he's healthy, Rose can still play with the best. But, has Rose and his rise and fall cast a shadow over another rising star?
At the age of 25, Jimmy Butler is in just his fourth year in the league. Since being drafted 30th overall by the Bulls in 2011, Butler has gradually but drastically improved his game. He has transformed himself into a good NBA player. But does "good" do him justice? We all know Derrick Rose and his capabilities, but now Butler is putting up MVP-type numbers, and no one really notices. Surely we should start to.
Since becoming an everyday player for the Bulls in 2012, when he started 20 games and averaged 26 minutes per game, Butler has been known as a great wing defender. His defensive rating of 104 is tied for his career-worst in 2012. And with a larger sample size just a year ago, Butler posted a rating of 100. To put this in perspective, in his 2010 MVP campaign, Derrick Rose - also regarded as a very solid NBA defender - posted a defensive rating of 103.
Butler has also averaged over 2 steals per game throughout his young career. And he is again hovering around 2 steals per game through nine games this season (1.9 per game). So it's plain to see that Jimmy Butler has been a consistently good defender since coming onto the scene in Chicago.
But where "Jimmy Buckets" has really improved over his first few seasons is on the offensive end of the floor. Even on a defensive minded team, Butler has found a way to improve upon his offensive game in a big way. In 2012, Butler averaged 8.6 points on 47% shooting from the floor and 38% from the three point line. He also tallied 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game. Not bad in just 26 minutes per contest.
But just a year ago, Butler averaged 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Though his per-game numbers improved, his shooting percentages (40% from the field, 28% from three) severely dropped due to the added pressure to score without Derrick Rose for the majority of the season. But last year was a long time ago.
So it would seem. Butler has put those shooting percentages behind him, and through the first nine games, Butler has started off with a bang. He's putting up 21.3 points a night on 51% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc. His 21.3 points per game are 13th in the league and sixth among guards.
He's not just scoring though. Butler is averaging career-highs in both rebounds (6.2) and assists (3.9). His 6.2 rebounds per game are fourth among all guards, behind only Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, and James Harden. Yes, these are career-highs, but Butler is playing even better than these numbers suggest. In fact, he's putting up numbers that should have him in the early MVP conversation.
Stay with me here.
Butler is near the top of numerous advanced metric categories. He is ninth overall in offensive rating with a rating of 126.5 - that's 1.3 better than the offensive-minded Kyrie Irving. Butler also ranks fourth and fifth respectively in offensive win shares and total win shares.
But how Butler has reached these numbers is incredible.
He has been very efficient while also being very aggressive. Not only is Butler 13th in true shooting percentage (62.5%), but also he ranks eighth in free throws (58) and 10th in free throw attempts (72). "He's been taking high percentage shots and has been getting to the line frequently." Tell me how often you hear announcers saying so-and-so has been doing that and thriving as a scorer. It's exactly what you want in a great offensive player.
With his consistent defense and improved offensive game, Jimmy Butler is one of the best players in the NBA. Our nERD metric supports this statement.
Butler is fifth in our power rankings with a nERD of 15.2, and he accounts for 22.6% of his team's total nERD of 67.2. That's about the same percentage as superstars Dirk Nowitzki and Damian Lillard, as I pointed out in my MVP piece earlier this week. But Butler sets himself apart with his superhuman ability to play over 40 minutes per game. Only Reggie Jackson has averaged more minutes per contest. Usually the metrics favor players who play fewer minutes per game (See Brandan Wright, the king of advanced analytics), but not in the case of Jimmy Butler.
You may not see his name up in lights, but Butler is putting up MVP-type numbers and proving why he's one of the most underrated players in the NBA.