The 25-year-old shooting guard has been phenomenal for the Chicago Bulls in 2014-15 following three seasons spent getting his feet wet in the pros. He entered the league as a defensive-minded wing who showed flashes of potential on the offensive end. Now he’s experiencing a full-fledged, All-Star-caliber breakout.
After receiving negligible playing time as a rookie (8.5 minutes per game), the Marquette product averaged 8.6 points per contest as an NBA sophomore while shooting an efficient 46.7 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. Those numbers hinted toward a breakout campaign leading up to the 2013-14 season—when Butler was set to be promoted as the full-time starter—but the results were less than stellar.
“Jimmy Buckets” failed to get those buckets with the consistency he showed previously while starting 67 games. He shot a woeful 39.7 percent from the field and converted just 68 of his 240 three-point attempts (28.3 percent).
Over the first two-plus months of his fourth professional season, Butler has made that anticipated leap and then some. Chicago’s breakout star is averaging 20.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 46.3 percent from the floor and 34.2 percent from downtown through Jan. 16. He makes up a list of just seven players averaging at least a 20-6-3 in points, rebounds and assists:
Of those seven guys, Butler has amassed the most win shares by a wide margin with 6.7—considerably better than Griffin in second place with 4.9, per Basketball Reference.
This meteoric rise for Butler draws parallels to that of another star: Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George.
Unlike Chicago’s newest standout, who didn’t put his stamp on the league until his fourth year, George blossomed in his third professional season back in 2012-13. He averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, won the league’s Most Improved Player Award, was named to his first All-Star team, and made the All-Defensive Second Team and the All-NBA Third Team. He shot just 41.9 percent from the field, but he knocked down 36.2 percent of his threes and continued to improve during his fourth year.
That’s where the comparison truly takes shape. Here’s a breakdown of each player’s fourth season:
George (2013-14): 21.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 steals and 0.3 blocks per game.
Butler (2014-15): 20.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 0.7 blocks per game.
Those numbers are nearly identical, especially when you consider that each guy is a formidable perimeter defender to boot. But what about shooting efficiency?
Above are the shot charts for Butler and George during the seasons in question. Truthfully, there isn’t much of a discernable difference. George shot a higher percentage on three-point looks from the corners, while Butler has been superior when finishing in the restricted area. Other than that, Butler’s breakout year has essentially mirrored the 2013-14 campaign from George.
The drawback for Butler is that he’s a year older by comparison. It’s still extremely impressive, though, that he was able to have such a giant uptick in production after sputtering in 2013-14. Nobody could have expected this type of statistical explosion based on Butler’s poor shooting a year ago.
As Ben Golliver noted in a Nov. 25 article, “Not only is Butler looking like a leading candidate to become a first-time All-Star, he is also emerging as one of the most-coveted free agents of the 2015 class.”
If Butler collects the Most Improved Player Award, makes his first All-Star appearance, and perhaps even lands berths on the All-NBA/All-Defensive teams—as George did for Indiana—he’ll have played his way to a max contract at season’s end…if he hasn’t already.
Note: All stats used in this article are accurate as of Jan. 17 and the widgets will update automatically.
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