"His story is one of the most remarkable I've seen in all my years of basketball. There were so many times in his life where he was set up to fail. Every time, he overcame just enormous odds. When you talk to him — and he's hesitant to talk about his life — you just have this feeling that this kid has greatness in him." –Anonymous general manager to ESPN's Chad Ford prior to the 2011 NBA Draft.
Back when Jimmy Butler was just a first-round hopeful in the spring of 2011, team after team told ESPN’s draft guru that Marquette’s 6-8 swingman Butler was one of the more impressive young men they’d ever met.
However, actions speak louder than words. The reigning NBA Finals MVP Kwahi Leonard, a fellow 2011 draftee and the darling of the NBA’s under-25 meteoric riser’s first team, is as reticent as they come. Butler buoyed his transcendent interview skills with an MVP performance at the Portsmouth Invitational, but he’d have to prove that thesis in an NBA environment first.
The mindset of a prototypical shooting guard’s role term is pretty straightforward. Get baskets or die trying.
Monta Ellis coined Monta-Ball to describe his outre basketball philosophy. Klay Thompson is currently pacing the league in scoring and James Harden's 18 field goals are the fewest in NBA history during a three-game span when scoring 85 or more points.
In Chicago, offense is a luxury that distracts from the savage defense Tom Thibodeau’s teams have become synonymous with.
When Butler first burst onto the scene in 2013, he was thought to be a makeshift tourniquet for the Bulls shooting woes. He proved to be an even bigger asset than they imagined.
During the final 19 games of the 2013 All-Star break, Butler shot 45 percent from behind the arc and .528 after being pushed into the starting lineup.
As a result, he was stuck with the nickname Jimmy Buckets even while versatile defense and offensive rebounding from the wing morphed into his trademarks.
Instead, the paucity of efficient scoring from deep was the knock on Butler in his third season.
The facsimile of Jamie Foxx shot like he was unconsciously researching a role as Ray Charles from downtown.
The Players Club era Jamie err… Jimmy Butler shot 40 percent from the field in nearly 40 minutes a night and connected on 28 percent of his shots from downtown.
However, regressions are to be expected from a player who has whiplash after ascending from homeless teenager in Tomball, Texas to honorable mention JUCO All-American at Tyler Junior College, before becoming Buzz Williams’ first recruit at Marquette and is only three years removed from being the first round of 2011’s NBA Draft last call.
Some prospects are microwave ready. Just unwrap, toss in the microwave, grab a fork and enjoy. The young LeBron’s, Kobe’s and Anthony Davis occupied this realm.
There’s secondary tier. These are the intermediary stars that were prepped in a skillet and needed extensive seasoning on medium heat for 15 minutes. Paul George, Sugar K. Leonard and Steph Curry took a little while to gain All-Star momentum.
Then, there's a tertiary tier of stars that need to be thawed overnight and baked for five to seven hours while all the irascible hypoglycemics at the table chomp on dry cereal to keep their sugar levels from crashing. Butler is an oven-prepared Thanksgiving turducken whose timer is beeping.
Leonard's developmental curve was accelerated in comparison to Butler’s, but the player ranked 70th in ESPN’s NBA player rankings prior to the season ( four slots lower than where he was juxtaposed in 2013) could be the NBA’s biggest surprise.
Even among Sugar K. Leonard and Paul George, Jimmy Butler is considered the premier LeBron Stopper, but in the offseason, it’s his offensive skillset which has advanced light years.
For some perspective on Butler, there’s an exquisite piece in the New Yorker that touches on the dichotomy of Chris Rock’s stagnated path to becoming a leading man in Hollywood and his stellar stand-up career.
After years of staggering from supporting role to supporting role, Rock may have finally found his footing as an entertainer and as a director with his upcoming flick, Top Five.
For a while it appeared Butler hit a wall as a one-dimensional role player devoted to his defensive craft.
There's a classic scene in 2006's Dreamgirls in which Eddie Murphy’s cantankerous fictional caricature, Jimmy Early halts the soulful beat he’s crooning to onstage, demands the band start playing some funk and begins undressing during his performance while melodically shouting “Jimmy Got Soooul!” It parallels the transition Butler's undergone thus far in 2014.
In the New Yorker's treatise, Rock muses about never achieve the same level of success financially and culturally in film as Murphy, his comic mentor (even though he's famous and not black famous. There are levels to this). Unlike Rock, Butler's on track to actually surpass his basketball aptitude.
Whether it was the lack of urgency on the Bulls part to invest in his potential, the banishment of self-doubt from his soul or just another case of the spike attributed to the critical nature of a contract year, a switch has been flipped in Butler’s head. He's not content hovering around average in the world's best basketball league.
Butler looks svelter than ever after losing 22 pounds in the offseason and the results showed in the preseason.
Butler has attributed that weight loss to his increased speed and agility.
"Because he generates so much speed, you almost have to foul him to stop him," Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune in Oct. "And he doesn't shy away from contact. He's clever.
Usually these exhibition matches have to be taken with a grain of salt, but on a nightly basis, Butler displayed an advanced offensive prowess.
With Doug McDermott, Mike Dunleavy and Nikola Mirotic being given the green light to launch at the rim, Butler began doing what he does best–making contact with defenders like a human Newton’s cradle.
In his final full preseason game before a sprained left thumb would sideline him, Butler had his most breathtaking performance yet.
A 29-point excursion against Atlanta thank included 16 free throw attempts, 12 makes, two steals, two blocks and a game-winning, buzzer-beating trey to beat Atlanta as time expired.
A day before the season opener, Thibodeau put a damper on the revelation that was Butler’s preseason by announcing that the aforementioned thumb injury he’d suffered on Oct. 19 was more serious than they’d let on and that he would miss two to four weeks.
On Halloween, Butler decided to test restricted free agency next summer and declined an $11 million per year extension offer.
“Jimmy loves Chicago and hopefully is there long-term. But his future is in his hands, not the Bulls’,” said Happy Walters, Butler’s agent on Friday. “He’s ready to prove wrong the questions they have about his shooting.”
Minus Rose and Taj Gibson, Butler was mysteriously inserted into the starting lineup on Saturday against the Timberwolves, then proceeded to pick up right where he left off.
Butler showcased more finishing moves than a WWE pay-per-view special. The offensive instincts were on further display on a first quarter put-back dunk.
The crafty post moves he picked up during his nascent years at Marquette before honing his stroke from midrange and beyond made Andrew Wiggins look foolish.
Butler’s 24 points included a career-high 15 free throws attempts, the game-tying freebie and the game-winner with .2 of a second remaining after he tempted the rook Andrew Wiggins into the air 17 feet from the basket.
(The best part of that sequence is that instead of a “Did I Do That?” Urkel face plastered on Wiggins’ face, he just looked relieved Jimmy Butler's tutorial was over.)
One skill Butler does execute consistently is donate to the charity stripe at a prolific rate. The children fed by UNICEF contributions for 50 cents a day don’t benefit from charity as often as Butler. In two games this season, Butler has already gotten to the line 26 times.
The Bulls can match any offer, however, it’s not a fait accompli that Butler will don Bulls red and black past this season. There’s a nervousness permeating throughout Chicago that he could follow Chandler Parson or Lance Stephenson’s lead and finagle his way out of Chicago after a breakout season.
Butler assured Bulls fans that he would be a Bull, but added that he also had to bet on himself, in addition to the positive affect that the NBA’s new TV deal will have on basketball related income and the league-wide salary cap.
“People say I’m chasing money when that’s not it — yeah, get your mic closer — that’s not it, because I’m going to be in Chicago,’’ Butler told the Chicago Sun Times on Saturday. “I’m not worried about it. I say that with a smile on my face because I know that for a fact. We’ll resume [negotiations] in July.’’
For a 25-year-old who once had nothing, it’s a risky gamble against the house, but Butler’s beaten tougher odds before.