Jimmy Butler and the Pick and Roll

Not sure if you’ve heard, but Derrick Rose tore his meniscus. While I wouldn’t say that I took the news well, I have now moved into the “acceptance” phase of the process and have begun to look ahead at the home stretch and how the Bulls can keep this ship afloat, again.

There was a lot of hot takes as to Rose’s impact (or lack thereof) on the court, as people pointed out very small changes in the Bulls offensive and defensive efficiency when Rose was on or off the court. I don’t want to delve to much into this discussion as we have a new contributor who is going to tackle this question over the weekend. but there is one thing that I want to talk about.

Jimmy Butler has had himself quite the season. After declining an extension from the Bulls this summer, famously betting on himself, Butler has quieted all of his doubters with his spectacular play. Earning his first All-Star nod, Butler is averaging a career high 20.2 points per game with very impressive shooting splits of 46%/35%/84%, per Basketball Reference. Butler is also grabbing 5.9 boards and dishing 3.3 assists per game, both career highs. But there is one particular area of Butler’s game that has taken a dramatic leap this season, and it is something that will hopefully become magnified in the coming weeks and months that Rose takes to rehab his knee.

NBA.com’s recently unveiled partnership with Synergy sports has freed up some fascinating information about specific play types in the league. The most valuable data comes from the information about the NBA’s favorite play: the pick and roll. The pick and roll has become the pet play of nearly every NBA team, and those who run it well have enjoyed great success.

No one has run more pick and rolls than Monta Ellis, who has been the ball handler on 590 recorded plays. The next highest, Damian Lillard, has completed 493 plays as the pick and roll ball handler. Ellis and Lillard average .86 and .87 points per possessions on pick and rolls, respectively. Those averages are both solidly above average, scoring in the 75th percentile per NBA.com.

The most prolific pick and roll ball handler is probably Chris Paul, a true maestro of the half court offense. Paul, who has run the third most pick and rolls in the NBA, scores at least one point on 46.7% of plays that end with him as the P&R ball handler, a mark that puts him in the 91st percentile in the NBA. Paul, who averages about eight of these possessions per game, is the gold standard in this category.

Jimmy Butler, from an efficiency standpoint, does not trail these aforementioned point gods by much. Butler averages .94 points per possession when he handles in the pick and roll, the sixth highest rate of guys who have at least 100 such possessions this season. The only guards ahead of Butler are Paul, James Harden, Steph Curry, and Lou Williams.

James Harden has developed a reputation as a guy who knows how to draw a foul when driving to the basket. His quick first step, incredible strength, and pretty solid acting chops have allowed him to shoot free throws on 20.5% of his pick and roll possessions. That 20.5% is the second highest rate of guys who have 100 such possessions. The league leader? Jimmy Butler, at 23.7%.

Butler isn’t just drawing contact and giving in. He’s converting 2.6% of his pick and roll drives into and-1s, just a tenth of a percentage point behind Harden. To put that number in perspective, Chris Paul, pick and roll Jedi, gets the bucket and the foul on just 0.7% of such plays.

Butler scores for at least one point on 48.1% of pick and rolls, the highest percentage in the league for guys who have 100 attempts.

With the absence of Rose, look for Butler to have a lot more opportunities to handle in the pick and roll. Today, Jimmy averages just three possessions a game in this situation. He runs this play on just 15% of the possessions that he is on the court. In comparison, Ellis, Lillard and Paul all average more than 40%. Rose, who’s pick and roll stats place him in the 47th percentile, ran this play 33% of the time he was on the floor.

While Butler’s impressive efficiency stats could suffer with an increased usage rate, I do not suspect the drop would be significant enough to justify keeping his attempts at their current level. In years past, whenever Rose went down, the Bulls were always faced with the uncomfortable question of who will create from the perimeter now?

For 2015, we have our answer.

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