CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler is in the midst of his best stretch as a professional basketball player. Butler is averaging 21.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game this season, but it's what he has done over his last two games that has caught the eye of the rest of the basketball world.
After scoring 40 of his 42 points in the second half of Sunday's win over the Toronto Raptors, besting a franchise record previously set by Michael Jordan for points in a half, Butler followed that up by scoring 32 points and tying a career high with 10 assists in a 117-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday night. After it was over, his teammates and coaches continued to rave about Butler's recent performances.
"Jimmy had it hot. I was going to him in the beginning, he got us the lead," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "We got a great start in the beginning. He's ballin' right now so keep going to him until he doesn't want the ball anymore."
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Butler's 74 points over his past two games are the most he has ever scored in consecutive games in his career. Over the second half of Sunday's game and the first of half of Tuesday's game Butler combined for 60 points and went 22-for-30 from the field. He was 3-for-5 from beyond the arc, 13-for-14 from the free throw line and had nine assists. Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg couldn't help but joke while discussing Butler's play.
"I was a little disappointed with Jimmy tonight coming out of the gate and only going for 20," Hoiberg cracked. "You know what? He's making the right decisions out there. Just going out and playing the right way. He's getting his teammates involved; I thought he was excellent early in the game making plays. He's always going to go out there and give you a great effort defensively. But again, another efficient night -- he scored 32 points on 21 shots, getting to the free throw line eight times and 10 assists. That's a pretty efficient night for Jimmy."
Butler's recent play comes in the wake of his public criticism of Hoiberg on Dec. 19 in which he said the first-year coach needed to coach the Bulls "harder," including Butler. Now that the Bulls have won five straight games and the All-Star continues to put up some of the best numbers of his career, the unity that seemed to be missing between Butler and some of his teammates on the floor has not been noticeable lately.
"Whenever we was losing the way that we were losing I think everybody knew the group of guys that we have, what we're capable of," Butler said. "And if we play the way we're capable of playing -- it wasn't what I said or what anyone else said, it was what we said together as a team in that locker room that nobody knows, and that's [that] we got a really good team on paper, out there on the court -- but if we don't play with one another and we don't stick together, we're not a really good team."
At 21-12, the Bulls are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference right now, and it's Butler's play that has sparked them. Hoiberg believes Butler has elevated himself into rarefied air within the league's hierarchy.
"Absolutely I think Jimmy has reached elite status in this league," Hoiberg said after Tuesday's shootaround. "You can see every game I think he's getting more comfortable as far as overall, where last year he was in less ball screens, more isolation-type actions. This year he's really added that element to his game. The ballhandling, his ability to get to the rim, using a ball screen, his 3-point shot if the defense tries to go under on him.
"And then he's always had that elite defensive mindset as well. He's such a complete player and it's a testament to what he does in the offseason. He just continues to add new elements to his game. He was in here at 8 o'clock this morning getting shots up. And he's never satisfied, and I think that's the true sign of a superstar when you continue to work when you have success."
Rose agreed with his coach's assessment on Butler.
"The way he's playing, the patience he's playing with," Rose said. "You can just tell the game is slowing down for him, especially when he's playing pick-and-roll. It's fun to see, exciting. I'm happy for him, man. For a player like him to come into the league and for him to improve the way he's improving and being on my team, it's good. I don't really got to do too much when I'm out there because he's taking great shots and he's making the right plays."