In three short years, Jimmy Butler has emerged from a player no one knew a whole lot about or expected much from at the NBA level when he was drafted in 2011, to the starting shooting guard for the Chicago Bulls.
The Tomball, Tex. native is one of the emerging talents in the NBA and his ceiling looks to be very high. But according to Tom Thibodeau, that wasn’t always the case for Butler, especially coming out of Marquette.
"In Jimmy’s case, he was probably penalized for staying in school four years. When you really study what he did in college, each year he got better, he was dominant in a major conference, and he was a fierce competitor," Thibodeau explained in a recent interview on WGN TV.
"What was said about him, the knock was that his ceiling is not very high and that he’s maxed out. But that couldn’t be further from the truth."
Long known to be a coach that preaches the virtues of hard work, no shortcuts, and not skipping any steps in your improvement process, Butler seemed to hang on Thibs’ every word when he came in as a rookie and accepted the coaching that led him to his current role as a starter.
"The trick is to try and understand what the makeup of the player is," explained Thibodeau. "To get into the pros in any sport you have to be very talented, but the guys who will continue to improve are driven, they have intelligence, they have a great will to win. Those guys continually get better throughout their career."
"So I think when you look at Jimmy -- unfortunately for him, he was drafted the year of the lockout – he missed the entire Summer League and fall [training camp]. And when we finally did resume play, there weren’t a lot of practices because you had the condensed schedule with a lot of games each week in a short amount of time. So when you did have a day off, it usually was a team meeting or film session. But right after that season, Jimmy came in and he immediately started working towards the next season.”
In his second season, Butler appeared in all 82 regular season games, starting 20 of them. He also increased his scoring average by six points, while also raising his rebound average and his field goal, three point and free throw shooting percentages. Increases that Thibodeau says all began in the offseason.
"He had a great Summer League and came back and stayed in the gym all of August, then prepared himself in the fall, and got better and better as the season went along last year," said Thibodeau.
"And the thing that I love about him is when the season ended last year, he got right back into the gym and did it all over again. But that’s who he is and that’s why he’ll continue to get better."