The Chicago Bulls are exceeding preseason expectations. Projected to be a 7 or 8 seed at best, they are currently in fourth—a mere half game behind second.
Jimmy Butler deserves the bulk of the credit for this, having elevated his game to MVP level. According to Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com, he is near the top of the league in almost every advanced metric:
Butler’s 7.7 leap in player efficiency rating (PER) nearly matches the 7.8 increase in 2014-15 when he won Most Improved Player. It’s also higher than any player who is qualified for the minutes per game leaderboard both of the last two seasons.
That not only puts him in consideration for MVP but also for an unprecedented second MIP, which would be about the most Jimmy thing ever.
When the Bulls inked Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade this summer, the conversation revolved around them joining Butler as the “Three Alphas.” But it’s evident now; there is only one alpha. And how the other stars, veterans and youngsters need to fit their games to accommodate him is the real question.
Here are the steps three of Butler’s teammates can take to help him out.
Rajon Rondo: Step Down
Better than the “Three Alphas” designation is the old “Batman” standby, and Butler is clearly Batman. Robin here is not Robin Lopez but Dwyane Wade.
And you may recall that Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, would frequently sub in for the caped crusader when he was unavailable. To extend our analogy, Rondo, not Butler, makes the best butler.
Which is all to say that Rondo can step up by volunteering to step down and lead the second unit. That would help both the starters and the reserves.
First, the ball should be in Butler’s hands as much as possible. Using SynergySportsTech.com, I looked at the total points and points per possession of every player with 200 possessions. The advantage to Synergy’s stats over shooting percentages is the inclusion of free throws and turnovers.
On the chart below, the further to the right the player is, the more efficient he is, and the closer to the top, the more points he’s scored.
Only a handful of players have scored more than Butler. And only two—Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant—are volume scorers who are more efficient.
You want the ball in Butler’s hands as much possible. The downside of that is Rondo is about as useful off the ball as a glass of water is to a drowning man.
He can’t utilize screens to spring himself open, and even if he could, he wouldn’t be able to capitalize because his jump shot isn’t trustworthy. In 16 games, he’s scored just 22 points on catch-and-shoot opportunities, per NBA.com.
At this point in his career, Rondo isn’t even a defender with any value. The Bulls’ defensive rating of 108.6 with him on the court is worst on the team. The team is also at its best (95.8) when he’s on the bench.
Having a guy on the court who doesn’t benefit the offense and hinders the defense doesn’t make sense.
Having Jerian Grant start …