Since signing a five-year, $94 million extension with the Bulls in July, Jimmy Butler has made a lot of noise about being the leader of the team. He certainly assumed that mantle last year, when he made his first career All-Star appearance and won Most Improved Player while Derrick Rose battled another round of knee injuries and inconsistent play. But now, with both of the Bulls’ backcourt stars expected to be healthy at the start of training camp, there’s been a lot of attention on their relationship, and how they can play together. There’s been talk of tension, which Butler dismisses, even as he dropped a surprising observation about his own role at Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas: he sees himself as a point guard.
From Bulls.com’s Sam Smith:
But sometimes there’s also internal change, which is what the best ones do in the summer. They add to their game, a shot, a move. Their games become the players you didn’t add. We saw it with Michael Jordan and that baseline jumper, Magic Johnson with his outside shot. They’re the same; until they are not. Rose and Noah reportedly have had healthy summers, and Butler continues to work on his own secret weapon.
“First off, I think I am a point guard,” Butler said without joking. “So I’ve done a heck of a lot of ball screen work, ball handling, getting into the paint and still handling, floaters, all that stuff point guards do. If I get a chance, high pick and roll more. I want some triple doubles. I’ve got to get my handle right so I can pass and get it to guys where they can make shots. I told Fred. You ask what position I play, I say point guard.”
It sounds like a joke for the guy who was supposed to be a small forward replacement for Luol Deng. But having another guard who can handle the ball and allow Rose to play off the ball with Butler’s defensive prowess provides a potentially exceptional and previously unknown element to the Bulls arsenal.
At first glance, that seems like a shot at Rose, who when healthy is the Bulls’ starting point guard. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. If Butler emerges as a capable primary ballhandler, that’s just another dimension to the Bulls’ offense, which already looks to be more dynamic under new coach Fred Hoiberg than it was under Tom Thibodeau. In the past, Rose has played well with another point guard in the lineup. In 481 minutes together, lineups featuring Rose and Kirk Hinrich outscored opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. In 191 minutes together last season, lineups featuring Rose and Aaron Brooks outscored opponents by 16.8 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Considering Butler is a significantly better player than both Brooks and Hinrich at both ends of the floor, putting him in a ballhandling role and allowing Rose to play off the ball has the chance to be an effective option for Chicago.
A lot of people want to make the tension between Rose and Butler out to be something that could tear the team apart, but all indications are that the two stars actually play well together, and under a coach as offensively creative as Hoiberg, there’s no reason to believe that will change.