SLAM Top 50: Jimmy Butler, No. 19

Long before Jimmy Butler was in the discussion of the top two-way guards in the L, he was just a 17-year-old entering his final year at Tomball High School in Texas.

Butler’s senior season averages—15 ppg and 8 rpg—didn’t even garner any attention from college coaches, so he did what most cats who want to keep their hoop dreams alive do: enroll at their local JuCo.

In his freshman year at Tyler College, he averaged 18 ppg and 7 rpg, earning him NJCAA All-American honorable mention and had offers from Iowa State, Clemson, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Marquette. He took his talents 998 miles away to Milwaukee, WI, where he played for Buzz Williams at Marquette.

Over the course of three years, his numbers with the Golden Eagles looked something like this: 5.6 ppg as a sophomore, 14.7 ppg as a junior and 15.7 ppg as a senior.

After making his SLAM Top 50 debut at No. 18 in 2015, Butler moves back one spot to No. 19 on this year’s list.

Long before he was Jimmy Buckets, he was selected No. 30 in the first round of the 2011 Draft. The Bulls’ newest draft pick struggled to see the court (2.6 ppg in 8 mpg) in the Association’s 42-game season due to the lockout.

With Derrick Rose out due to injuries from 2012-14, Butler filled the void and saw more court time. He played all 82 games (starting 20) in his second year and averaged 8.6 ppg and 4 rpg in 26 mpg.

The numbers kept increasing the following seasons, too: 13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.6 apg in 38.7 mpg in 2013-14; 20 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.3 apg in 38.7 mpg in 2014-15; and 20.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.8 apg in 36.9 mpg in 2015-16.

He was named Most Improved Player in 2014, made his first All-Star appearance in 2015 and again in 2016 but didn’t play because of a strained left knee.

Here are some other accolades Jimmy Buckets has added to his résumé: He scored a career-high 53 points (first time a Bull scored 50 points since Jamal Crawford in ’04), holds the Bulls’ new franchise record for most points in a half after one-upping Mike’s 39-point performance against the Bucks in ’88, graced the cover in SLAM 197, inked a five-year, $95 million contract last season and won Gold with Team USA this past summer in Rio.

In 2015, reports of tension between Butler and Derrick Rose surfaced, as it was obvious that he was becoming the new face in the Windy City. The two denied any and all claims of beef and Butler gave everyone a reason to think they were on good terms—a heartfelt Instagram post in June after Rose signed with the New York Knicks and another picture a month later with Rose and his son, PJ, at a Cubs-Dodgers game.

I wrote last week in Dwyane Wade’s ranking that he’d bring his veteran leadership for Butler and Co. to embrace and bring that winning culture back to Chicago after the Bulls missed the Playoffs last season for the first time in six years. You can add the Bulls as the third team that’ll be under the media microscope this season. (I’ll let you figure out the other two on your own.)

Now is the real test for the 27-year-old to emerge as the Bulls’ leader and face of the franchise. After all, this is officially Butler’s team now, according to new teammates Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade.


2011: NR
2012: NR
2013: NR
2014: NR
2015: 18

2016: 19

SLAM Top 50 Players 2016
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Ben Simmons 76ers SF 9
49 D’Angelo Russell Lakers PG 12
48 Derrick Favors Jazz PF 12
47 Devin Booker Suns SG 8
46 Chris Bosh Heat PF 11
45 Bradley Beal Wizards SG 7
44 Eric Bledsoe Suns PG 11
43 Serge Ibaka Magic PF 10
42 CJ McCollum Blazers SG 6
41 Pau Gasol Spurs PF 9
40 Rudy Gobert Jazz C 9
39 Kevin Love Cavs PF 8
38 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 7
37 Kristaps Porzingis Knicks PF 6
36 Kemba Walker Hornets PG 10
35 Dwight Howard Hawks C 8
34 Hassan Whiteside Heat C 7
33 Gordon Hayward Jazz SF 8
32 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 9
31 Andrew Wiggins T-Wolves SF 7
30 Dwyane Wade Bulls SG 5
29 Paul Millsap Hawks PF 5
28 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
27 Al Horford Celtics C 5
26 Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks SF 6
25 Isaiah Thomas Celtics PG 8
24 DeMar DeRozan Raptors SG 4
23 DeAndre Jordan Clippers C 4
22 Andre Drummond Pistons C 3
21 Kyle Lowry Raptors PG 7
20 Karl-Anthony Towns T-Wolves C 2
19 Jimmy Butler Bulls SG 3

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2016-17—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

Follow the entire SLAM Top 50 countdown.