Quick Bulls Thought: Life Without Jimmy

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In wake of the news that the Chicago Bulls will be without the services of starting shooting guard and flat top aficionado Jimmy Butler for the foreseeable future (a future that includes the Bulls’ annual circus trip that begins tonight in Denver), I took some time to look at how Butler’s absence will impact the team.

Glancing over Butler’s traditional box scores leaves one with the impression that Butler’s injury may not have much of a negative impact on the play of the Bulls. Averaging 11.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists a game, Butler’s game on the surface does not seem to be all that remarkable. Surely Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy, the two players coach Thibodeau will rely on to cover Butler’s shooting guard responsibilities, will be able to replicate numbers like that. One might even venture as far as to suggest that the Bulls could benefit from having a better ball handler or a better shooter on the floor for more minutes. But the reality is that this injury will really test this veteran squad that has championship aspirations.

The Bulls this season are averaging just 98.9 points per possession, an offensive efficiency that ranks 22nd in the NBA and sandwiches them between Orlando and Philly. But with Butler on the floor, the Bulls see their offensive efficiency rise to 102.1, a number that is just about league average, per stats.nba.sportsVU.

Part of the reason for this is that Butler opens the floor up for his teammates as he has developed an effective three point stroke from the corners. Butler is shooting 38.5% on his three pointers, and is accountable for nearly all of the Bulls’ action from the corners. Per the always excellent sportsVU feature, the Bulls are shooting 63% and 57% from the left and right corners when Butler is on the floor. When Jimmy hits the bench? 11% and a freaking ZERO from the right side.

Mike Dunleavy Jr., brought in as a sort of Kyle Korver supplement after Reinsdorf decided he’d rather have $500 grand than the best pure shooter in basketball the sharp shooter was traded to Atlanta a year ago, has not been solid through the first portion of the season, stroking an impressive 54.5% from deep. But the difference between Dunleavy and Butler is that Mike D requires a lot more off ball action in order to free himself for an open shot. Butler’s attempts seem to come more in the natural flow of the offense. Butler’s ability to take guys off the dribble who run out at him too hard forces defenders to give Jimmy some breathing room on his shot.

The Bulls defensive efficiency rating is 92.8, good for third best in the league (the Pacers are #1 if you were interested). That excellent defense is due mostly to the play of the Bulls starting unit, which as already logged 129 minutes this season. The second most used five man lineup has only shared the floor for 45 minutes. That starting unit has a defensive efficiency of 92. In Butler’s absence, I would expect Thibs to rely heavily on lineups featuring both Rose and Hinrich. Unfortunately, that pairing is surrendering a gaudy 110 points per 100 possessions.

The nature of the rigorous NBA season is that almost all teams will have a key rotation member go down for an extended period of time with an injury. The Bulls are lucky that Butler’s toe will likely heal in two or three weeks. But an injury like this will force the Bulls to look and see how deep this team is. Over the course of an 82 game season and a potential 20+ game playoff run, every member of the team will be counted on to contribute. Whether or not those players can rise to the challenge is the difference between a nice season and a championship.

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