DEERFIELD, Ill. -- By all accounts second-year Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler did everything asked of him this past summer as he looks to improve on an up-and-down rookie year. Butler missed a lot in his first offseason, due to the 2011 NBA lockout, and this year the coaching staff wasted little time with him.
“I think I was a little bit of everyone’s project,” Butler joked after Saturday’s practice at the Berto Center. “I spent a lot of time with each guy individually… Things I didn’t know from last year I definitely got them down over the summer.”
Between the time spent with coaches and a rise in his own confidence Butler is primed to fill the hole left by the departure of Ronnie Brewer, though he wants to carve out his own niche. First, he has to keep his conditioning in prime shape.
“It’s definitely a different pace going up and down with pro guys, you have to be winded but still execute,” Butler said.
Coach Tom Thibodeau likes everything about Butler, but now wants to see it translate on the floor. He was asked to assess his rookie year.
“Some good, some bad,” Thibodeau said. “He got to the free-throw line very efficiently but he didn’t shoot as high a percentage as we would have liked. And his defense was up and down.”
So there was plenty of room for improvement. The NBA summer league isn’t necessarily the place to judge it, but considering it was canceled in 2011, the time spent playing games this past summer was as important as anything. Butler averaged 20.8 points per game, good for fourth in the league. And that poor free throw percentage, 76.8 percent last season, shot up to 90 percent in summer league play. That came on 34 attempts in just four games.
“He’s done all the things that he should have done,” Thibodeau reiterated. “He’s a young player that is still developing. I like his versatility. He can play the three, the four and in some cases, the two. That’s a big plus. … He has to prove that he’s durable.”
That last sentiment is the one Butler agrees with the most.
“I think the biggest thing is how hard you have to play every single possession,” he said. “Offense, defense, offense, defense. Winded, tired. All of that, you still have to go hard.”
Butler was repeatedly asked what kind of player he wants to become. What will his niche actually be? He responded like a veteran, which incidentally, he believes he is now.
“Whatever my team needs me to be,” Butler said. “I know that’s going to be on the defensive end the majority of the time but I want to be able to make that open shot, drive, finish at the rim and hit those open guys. And be able to yell whenever you see Taj [Gibson] yelling out there on the floor.”
Getting started: The Bulls open the preseason on Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“I’m excited about it because it’s the first opportunity for us to compete as a team so that will help give us a baseline for where we have to go,” Thibodeau said. “But I view this whole month as our training camp.”
“He is loud and I prefer the loud to be on defense. But he’s sort of an X factor and I like that.”--Thibodeau on notoriously exuberant guard Nate Robinson.
“Great kid, plays hard. He’s country. It’s hard to believe there is someone more country on this team but there is.”-- Kirk Hinrich, on getting to know Butler.