Thibodeau: Butler is a top-five defender

Jimmy Butler held LeBron James to 2-of-11 shooting when he was guarding the Heat star. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Bulls' Jimmy Butler came into the NBA with a reputation as a good defender, and three years later his coach believes the guard is now among the best in the NBA.

Asked if Butler has matured into a top-10 or even top-five defensive player in the NBA, especially since he can guard 2-guards and small forwards, Tom Thibodeau took the praise a step further.

"I sure would and don't stop at 2 and 3 because he's guarded 1s and 4s as well," Thibodeau said Monday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "Great individual defense, great team defense. Offensively the last three or four weeks I think he has been very good. He got off to a slow start this year, and I think that might be attributed to the injuries. Every time he started to get on track he got nicked up again. He had a knee, he had a rib, but he's finally gotten healthy and he's in a really good rhythm right now. He's really coming on, and I think that's been a big, big plus for us."

Butler did a commendable job holding LeBron James in check in a victory over the Miami Heat Sunday. The reigning MVP was held to 17 points on 8-of-23 shooting in the Heat's third straight loss, a 95-88 overtime defeat in Chicago. James particularly struggled against Butler, shooting 2-of-11 when being defended by the Bulls guard, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Thibodeau said the defensive accolades might not come Butler's way until next season.

"I don't know the reason why but usually that's the case," Thibodeau said. "When you earn it it's usually a year after that. Jimmy has been terrific from his rookie year on. He came on in a tough year. His first year was the year after the lockout so you're behind the eight ball missing summer league, the fall stuff and it's a condensed schedule so there's minimal practice. That's a tough way to come in and start your career, but he was very good that year defensively.

"He's got great balance, feet, just the way he can position himself. Got great hands. And now I think he knows the players well, he knows what the teams are trying to get to so he's about as good as it gets."