Chicago Bulls' Butler adjusting well to new pass-heavy style
One of the major storylines in the NBA this season has been Houston's James Harden increasing his assist average by roughly 50 percent to a league-leading 11.3 per game. Harden is widely considered the MVP front-runner because of this performance.
The Chicago Bulls have a similar thing going on, though on a smaller scale. Since the team traded Taj Gibson to Oklahoma City and lost Dwyane Wade to an elbow injury, Jimmy Butler has been increasingly double-teamed by opponents.
Since the all-star break, Butler ranks eighth in the league in assists with 7.1 per game cheap jerseys online. That's not in Harden, Russell Westbrook or LeBron James territory, but it is a significant change. Butler averaged 5 assists before the break.
After Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center, Butler was asked if he has any interest in becoming an Eastern Conference version of Harden, a high scorer capable of leading the league in assists.
"Nah, I'll let James be James," Butler said. "He's the best at that. I'll just try to be the best version of myself that I can be."
What exactly is the best version of Butler? He went through a stretch earlier this season where he was one of the most reliable fourth-quarter scorers in the league.
Since missing four games with a bruised right heel in early February, Butler's jumper hasn't been quite the same, but he also has been getting extra defensive attention.
In the last three games, Butler has taken the passing game to another level. He recorded a career-high 14 assists in Sunday's win at Milwaukee and has averaged 12.3 assists over the past three contests.
"I'm learning. I think that all the film I watch on myself and of other players getting double-teamed, you just have to pick up on things a lot faster," Butler said. "I think I can still be better at it with my decision-making and what to do and when to do it. But I mean, heck, 70 games in, I guess it's still a learning curve for me and for everybody else. Hopefully I continue to make the right plays."
It has been interesting how Butler has almost swapped roles with point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo still is getting his share of assists, finishing with 9 against the Bucks.
But Rondo, a notoriously poor outside shooter throughout his career, suddenly is connecting on 51.4 percent of his 3-point shots in March (18-for-35). Rondo returned to the starting lineup March 13 jerseys wholesale in Charlotte and the Bulls have gone 4-4 since.
"There's enough time in a game where both of us can handle the ball and make plays for our teammates," Rondo said Tuesday. "That's just what we're trying to do is make our team better. I believe in sharing the ball, and I think Jimmy's doing a great job right now of making plays for his teammates."
Butler's work ethic always has been evident in his constant improvement. He did admit to watching more film in recent weeks, since opposing defenses started double-teaming him regularly.
"A lot more shots, practicing on shooting over double teams, get more arc on the ball," he said. "But, yeah, definitely a lot more film on watching players who are much better than me get double-teamed, and what am I doing whenever I'm double teamed. Me and my trainer, we do a lot of that."
After talking to reporters, Butler decided to practice his overhead, back-to-the basket, half-court shots, the ones that team mascot Benny the Bull attempts at every home game. Butler made it on about his eighth attempt, then loudly gave himself a new, unprintable nickname.
It's always good to have a fallback talent.