The Bulls announced Wednesday that guard Jimmy Butler will not travel on the team's upcoming six-game road trip because he suffered a toe sprain (turf toe) on his right foot during Chicago's 86-81 victory over Charlotte on Monday.
Officially, the third-year guard is listed as "week-to-week" with the injury. Yahoo! Sports reports that Butler is expected to miss "two to three weeks." That timeline window would keep Butler sidelined somewhere between seven and 11 games.
Butler, 24, had started all nine of Chicago's games this season. He is averaging 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.8 steals -- all career-highs -- so far this season and he's regarded as one of the league's better perimeter defenders.
"He's someone we're definitely going to miss, especially with his energy and defense, and he's knocking down shots," Derrick Rose said. "But there's Mike Dunleavy, there's Kirk (Hinrich), there's myself when I play (shooting guard.) We just have to fill in for him."
The Bulls (6-3) enter Wednesday's action ranked No. 3 in defensive efficiency and Butler has posted a +8.4 plus-minus rating and an excellent 92.3 defensive rating. His absence will break up a Chicago starting line that's enjoyed a strong +10.6 net rating so far this season, even as Rose continues to shake off the rust.
Chicago has stuck tightly to a nine-man rotation this season, with reserve center Nazr Mohammed included in that mix, but playing a minor role. As Rose's comments suggest, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will almost certainly fill the bulk of Butler's minutes from within the current rotation rather than turning to his deeper bench options (second-year guard Marquis Teague, rookie Tony Snell or the 38-year-old Mike James).
Thibodeau used Hinrich as his starting point guard when Derrick Rose missed time this season with a hamstring injury, an easy call, but replacing Butler is a more complicated decision. Dunleavy might seem to could be the logical stand-in option starting alongside Rose, as he fits the wing prototype better than Hinrich. Signed during the offseason, the 6-foot-9 Dunleavy is averaging 7.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 22.1 minutes off the bench. His pairing on the wing with Luol Deng would give Chicago a long perimeter tandem to start games, and his shooting could be put to good use if he played more minutes alongside Rose. Starting Dunleavy, though, might imbalance Chicago's lineups, as it would leave the Bulls' second unit without a long perimeter option.
Hinrich has spent plenty of time over the years playing both guard positions and he will surely see his minutes increase in Butler's absence. He could be the preferable starting option if Chicago needs to match-up against a smaller two guard, but going that route would leave Chicago's second-unit needing a lead ball-handler. If Thibodeau does opt to start Hinrich, that would likely crack open the door for Teague, who averaged eight minutes per game in 2012-13 when Rose missed the entire season due to a knee injury.The early returns from this season don't suggest a strong preference for giving the bulk of the minutes alongside Rose to Hinrich or Dunleavy at this point. Per NBA.com, Chicago has posted a -16.1 net rating in the 72 minutes that Rose and Hinrich have played together this season, and a -17.7 net rating in the 48 minutes that Rose and Dunleavy have shared the court. Compare that to the +6.6 net rating in the 198 minutes played by Rose and Butler together and it's a safe bet that this injury will leave a mark. Complicating matters, Hinrich and Dunleavy have played a majority of their minutes at the same time this season, making it difficult to isolate their individual impact in Chicago's lineups. Clearly, there are kinks to be worked out here. The good news: Even though Chicago will spend the rest of November on the road, only two of their next seven opponents are currently above .500.