SLAM Top 50: Jimmy Butler, no. 18

This dude wasn’t even listed in our top-50 ranking last year (or ever, for that matter), but yet here he stands today ranked as among the top-18 ballers in the Association. Not sure that there’s been anyone who has ever debuted in the Top 50 as a member of the top-20 club (Ryne?). But if anyone had a chance to beat the odds for such feat, Jimmy Buckets had the makings from start to do the impossible.

The guy had his dad walk out of his life as an infant only to have his mother kick him out of the house at the age of 13 for, as he put it in an ESPN interview, not liking “the look” of him. Bouncing around the homes of his friends throughout high school and not receiving any scholarship offers from DI schools, he ended up at a small junior college in Tyler, TX, before receiving a scholarship offer to Marquette, where he went from averaging 5.6 points as a sophomore to 15.7 points and All-Big East Honorable Mention as a senior.

So yeah, Butler had to overcome quite a few long odds and obstacles just to make it out of high school. But to then find his way into a DI program from a community college, and into the NBA, and into a starting role with the Chicago Bulls, and into an All-Star selection and a top-20 NBA ranking spot—now that’s coming up big time.

Just like his teammate Derrick Rose, Butler was also a member of the Class of 2007 coming out of high school, where, while Rose was ranked as the top player in the nation, the Tomball, TX, native was regarded as an unranked two-star prospect. Now, ironically, he’s surpassed Rose on just about every NBA ranking.

And that’s obviously not to say that those scouting services were wrong about Butler’s game at the time. It just goes to show what happens when someone decides to continue working on his or her craft relentlessly.

From a basketball perspective, Butler is coming off a season where he posted career highs in points (20.0), assists (3.3), and rebounds (5.8). He led the League in playing time last season at 38.7 minutes per outing, which is the same playing time he averaged his previous year.

And while usually the League’s Most Improved Player recipients are simply the beneficiaries of increased role and playing time, Butler’s statistical rise was because, well, he actually did improve. His minutes didn’t increase a drop from the previous year, yet his scoring nonetheless went from 13.1 to 20 ppg. His shooting percentages increased across all categories (FG: 39.7% to 46.2%, 3PT: 28.3% to 37.8%, FT: 76.9% to 83.4%).

The 6-7 SG was just simply much more efficient. Beyond the stats, he has become a two-way weapon guard—always looking for the toughest defensive assignment and willing to get scrappy. Butler has become the Bull’s top perimeter defender and one of the best in the L at it in the process.

So what does all that mean for Butler’s upcoming season?

Forecasting a player’s production is the purpose of these rankings after all. One thing that’s safe to predict is that Butler likely won’t be leading the League in minutes again. Tom Thibodeau was notorious for playing his starters too long and with new head coach Fred Hoiberg now at the helm, we can expect Jimmy to get a bit more time on the bench to catch his breath.

Hoiberg’s offense at Iowa State was known for its fast, uptempo style. And while it wasn’t Mike D’Antoni’s seven-second race, it did rely on multiple screens and away from the ball movement to open up the floor and create mismatches.

Its offense thrived on early ball screens in transition in the hopes of getting someone to help, which then opens up some space on the floor ahead.

Such offensive style helped Iowa State defeat Kansas on their way to winning the Big 12 with not nearly the talent—relatively speaking. Imagine the possibilities when two All-Star caliber guards are running the backcourt.

And considering that the Bulls ranked 23rd last year in points per possession in transition sets with 1.08 points per occasion, per the NBA’s SportVU data, the new offense will certainly be welcomed in Chi-Town after being criticized in years past for being stagnant too often under Thibs.

With Butler featuring an attack-mode style of play, being in a system where he can get the ball on the run and while on the move could only be a plus for him.

In such offense, Rose will be the one who’ll most likely need to make the biggest adjustment, as he no longer will be dominating the ball for as long as he’s been used to in the past. For Butler, though, it might mean more touches on the move for a player that emerged as Chicago’s primary scorer last year.

This past summer, Butler became $95 million richer thanks to his new five-year deal with the franchise. But with great wealth comes great expectations. There’s no doubt he earned the contract. And considering all the challenges he’s hurled through already, no reason to doubt he can back up the ranking.


SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14
49 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 8
48 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 10
47 Al Jefferson Hornets C 9
46 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 7
45 Goran Dragic Heat PG 13
44 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 11
43 Jeff Teague Hawks PG 12
42 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 6
41 Joakim Noah Bulls C 8
40 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 11
39 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
38 Andrew Wiggins T-Wolves SF 7
37 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 9
36 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 10
35 Gordon Hayward Jazz SF 6
34 Pau Gasol Bulls PF 9
33 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 8
32 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 8
31 Andre Drummond Pistons C 7
30 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 7
29 Draymond Green Warriors PF 6
28 Kobe Bryant Lakers SG 5
27 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 4
26 DeAndre Jordan Clippers C 6
25 Tim Duncan Spurs C 5
24 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 7
23 Al Horford Hawks C 4
22 Paul George Pacers SF 5
21 Chris Bosh Heat PF 5
20 Kevin Love Cavs PF 4
19 Dwight Howard Rockets C 3
18 Jimmy Butler Bulls SG 3

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.