If you’ve followed the Chicago Bulls over the past several years, the narrative has been the same: If Derrick Rose could just stay healthy, this team could be a legitimate NBA title contender.
Thanks to a 26-year-old shooting guard who’s taking the league by storm, it’s time to officially change that narrative.
We’re talking, of course, about Jimmy Butler, who enters Thursday’s contest with the Boston Celtics averaging a team-high 22.1 points per game. Butler has been the catalyst during Chicago’s current five-game winning streak, averaging 31 points per game over his last four contests and dropping 40 points in the second half Sunday to help secure a big win over the Toronto Raptors.
Rose, meanwhile, already has missed five games due to injury this season and is averaging a career-low 14.4 points per game.
So, whose team is this? Rose is a three-time NBA All-Star and former league MVP, but his comments after Butler’s 40-point explosion suggest even he sees the writing on the wall.
“(Butler is) ballin’ right now,” Rose said, via ESPN.com. “So keep going to him until he doesn’t want the ball anymore.”
Rose is right. The Bulls have a 101.1 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) when Butler is on the court, compared to a 100.5 rating when Rose is on the court. That may not seem like much of a difference, but consider this: When Rose is off the court, Chicago’s offensive rating jumps to 101.9, suggesting head coach Fred Hoiberg’s club is more effective when its offense runs through Butler rather than Rose.
The Bulls’ lineup combinations bear out this theory. Of Chicago’s five most effective lineup combinations through 33 games, Butler is part of four of them. Rose? Just one.
Those obviously are very small sample sizes, as the Bulls’ most-used lineup, which includes both Butler and Rose, has logged a total of 190 minutes. But unlike in past seasons, Chicago has managed just fine in 2015-16 without its star point guard dominating play: The Bulls are 4-1 in games without Rose and 7-2 in contests in which he plays 30 minutes or less.
That’s not a knock on Rose as much as it is a testament to Butler, who has drastically improved over the last three seasons to become the team’s best player. Chicago struggled early this season trying to find its identity and adopt to Hoiberg’s coaching style. But it appears Rose and the 21-12 Bulls have finally figured it out: Give Butler the keys to the car, and allow a strong supporting cast with Rose riding shotgun to steer him to success.
“Who knows how good he can become?” Rose said Thursday of Butler, via the Chicago Tribune. “I just love his patience right now. He’s playing with unbelievable patience. He’s not rushing anything, he knows what he’s getting whenever he’s in the pick-and-roll or whenever he’s in the isolation. He’s reading everything the right way now.”
Apparently, so are the Bulls.
Thumbnail photo via Kamil Krzaczynski/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) and guard Jimmy Butler (21) talk to each other against the Milwaukee Bucks in game five of the first round of the 2015 NBA Playoffs at United Center. The Bucks won 94-88.