"I think Jimmy's playing great basketball," Noah said after Tuesday night's win over the Phoenix Suns, as Butler, who appears to be emerging from a bad shooting slump, changed at his locker nearby. "The sky's the limit for him. I think the more he plays the more he's going to get comfortable finding where he can score, how to score off the pick-and-roll. He's a confident cowboy."
Then Noah uttered the nickname that Butler will surely hear from fans again soon.
"Blazing Saddles," Noah said happily. "Blazing Saddles. That's him."
Butler isn't going to care much what his teammates call him as long as he stays out of the offensive funk he has been trapped in. Over his past five games, the Marquette alum is averaging 16 points, five rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.2 steals. As a young player, Butler knows that the key for him is trying not to do too much on the floor. After his close friend Luol Deng was traded, Butler was forcing more shots than usual, and it showed.
"I always try to not step on anybody's toes," Butler said. "Or try to change too much on the offensive end. I think when you think about that too much, it's just entirely too much thinking for the good or for the bad. When you go out there and just play and take what the game gives you I think it makes it a lot easier."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau never doubted that Butler would break out of his funk because of all the hours he's put into his game over the past couple years. The veteran coach believes the key for Butler is to continue to drive to the rim and get to the line, because that will open up everything else for him.
“Jimmy has been playing well," Thibodeau said. "His offense is starting to come around, but it’s the way, like I don’t want him to strictly rely on his jump shot. To me, when he does that he gets away from a lot of other things that he does well, which is like running the floor, moving without the ball, getting to the free throw line, and then when you add in shooting the ball well, you’re going to see him scoring like 15 to 20 points, his defense, guarding multiple positions, so I think he’s starting to get into rhythm, which is important. The big thing is it’s been so choppy for him all season. But he’s playing well right now.’’
The 24-year-old Butler is relieved to be producing at a high level again and knows he must stay aggressive. He credits part of his turnaround to the advice he's gotten from his older teammates about finding ways to break through a slump. He feels more comfortable on the floor now because he has a better understanding of what kind of shots he needs to take -- and when to take them.
"I definitely do," he said. "And it helps because Derrick's (Rose) always telling me, 'Hey, you got to take this shot because that's what the game's giving you.' Or [Carlos Boozer] or [Noah], they're all telling me to just stay aggressive."