How Losing Jimmy Butler Will Impact the Chicago Bulls
With the surging Cleveland Cavaliers and the injury to Rose, now isn't exactly the time to be without the sixth-best player in the NBA, and that's exactly what Butler is, according to our power rankings and nERD metric.
Butler is slated to miss 3-6 weeks with a sprained left elbow, so how does that affect the Bulls?
Butler has been able to shed his "Jimmy Minutes" moniker this year, as he has become more than merely the latest workhorse in a Tom Thibodeau rotation.
Butler does, of course, lead the league in minutes per game (38.9), but he's doing much, much more than racking up court time.
Butler's nERD of 13.9 indicates that if he started on a team full of league-average talent then that team would finish 13.9 games above .500. That's sixth-best in the league. His Win Shares (9.5) rank fifth in the NBA, and his Offensive Win Shares (7.0) rank fourth in the league. Despite having a minutes advantage over every other player in the NBA, his Win Shares per 48 minutes (.212) still ranks ninth in the league.
Butler initially made a name for himself for his defense, but his Offensive Rating of 122 actually ranks 11th in the NBA. For context, Steph Curry's Offensive Rating is 121, and James Harden's is 119.
Sure, Butler ranks just 14th in Effective Field Goal Percentage (49.9 percent) among the 27 players who attempt at least 14.0 field goals per game, but he's been able to elevate his per 36 scoring from 12.2 points last year to 18.7 this year. The "Jimmy Buckets" monicker is quite apropos.
Craziest of all, Butler is doing this all with a usage rate of 21.6, tied for 42nd in the league with Jose Barea.
Losing such an efficient piece would hurt any team, especially one in a race as tight as the one the Bulls find themselves amidst right now.
Without Butler on the floor (775 minutes this year), the Bulls have an Offensive Rating of 105.6. With Butler on the floor (2,140 minutes), their Offensive Rating is 108.3.
Can anyone make up for that 2.7-point swing?
The first option to replace butler will be Tony Snell. Snell is currently posting a nERD of 0.6, which is slightly above the league average of 0.0. Snell's Offensive Rating of 113 is actually third-best on the Bulls and his true shooting percentage (59.4 percent) is best, but his Win Shares per 48 minutes (.104) rank just seventh in Chicago.
Snell isn't a below-average player this year, and in his 835 minutes on the court, the Bulls have a 108.0 Offensive Rating (compared to 107.4 without him), but replacing Butler will be a tall task.
If Thibodeau can work in Nikola Mirotic more, then one of the NBA's best role players who has been able to produce some historic per-36 numbers could help fill the void, as well. Mirotic is currently posting a nERD of 3.9, 39th-best in the league.
The Bulls, prior to losing Butler, were the 11th-best team in the NBA, according to our power rankings. Their nERD of 58.0 was a mere 0.2 less than the Cavs' 58.2. This means that the expected winning percentage of each team was practically identical.
At 37-23, the Bulls are just a game back from the 2 seed Toronto Raptors. However, they're also just a half a game ahead of the 4 seed Cavaliers, placing them in danger of losing the division lead in the Central.
The Bulls are still three games ahead of the Washington Wizards, the current 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, so their homecourt advantage in the first round is not entirely guaranteed at this point.
Without Butler throughout the rest of the regular season, the Bulls are expected to finish 48-34. That's solid, but it's a 1.3-game drop from the projections with him in the lineup. Sure, that's a pretty small decline, but what does that do to their division title odds?
Those now sit at just 37.5 percent, which is a 16.1 percent decrease. That makes what was about a 54-46 split between the Bulls and the Cavs a 38-62 split the opposite way.
With a tougher path in the playoffs, their chances to win the Conference Finals drop more than a full percentage point to just 14.7 percent, and their NBA Championship odds drop nearly a full percent and sit at just 4.5 percent if they miss Butler until the postseason.