The King of the Windy City has quietly taken a step ahead of Kawhi Leonard
Overshadowed by the spotlight of Spurs Kawhi Leonard’s success, Jimmy Butler has quietly taken a step past Kawhi Leonard as the ever-evolving new leader of the Windy City, Chicago Bulls.
The Chicago Bulls have been all about Derrick Rose since he was drafted in 2008; it became the former MVP’s team as the Bulls started to look like serious contenders in the east. But after a series of injuries that would throw Rose off track and make him unable to put up his MVP numbers for years to come, The Bulls looked elsewhere as they let go of their franchise player and looked to rebuild. The Bulls never expected to not make the playoffs last season, but they also never expected their next franchise player to be a first round, 30th pick in the 2011 draft, the year where Derrick Rose was dominating the league, the Bulls never knew the true potential of Jimmy Butler.
Since then, the Bulls have been revamped and quoted by Dwyane Wade as “Jimmy Butler’s team.” and Wade has never been more right. Butler has been pulling most of the weight for the Bulls since, The Bulls were predicted by ESPN to finish 9th in the eastern conference but Jimmy Butler has helped push Bulls outlook to playoff contenders.
A crucial role held by Butler for the Bulls is also shared with the San Antonio Spurs Forward Kawhi Leonard; So far last year’s defensive player of the year has been a favorite to win the MVP award, for his outstanding improvement in the league and his highly praised defense. Now with Tim Duncan out of the Spurs picture, the Leonard takeover has been in full effect, but what if the Claws takeover has overshadowed the ever-evolving success of former Most Improved Player of 2014?
When you take a look at both Leonard and Butler, both are averaging similar numbers. Leonard doesn’t fall short of his title as Defensive Player of the Year, having the advantage in steals, blocks and limiting turnovers, but offensively Butler has become a force to reckon with, averaging more PPG, assists and rebounds.
Playing 40 minutes per game is nothing new to Butler when it came to the former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, now with the Bulls current Coach Fred Hoiberg, Butler is still playing more minutes than Leonard but Kawhi has attempted 267 shots compared to 246. It’s also worthy to be of note that Leonard has been more efficient at the free-throw line, but Butler has attempted 145 free-throws compared to Kawhi’s 104, meaning Butler is drawing more fouls on offense. It’s also worth noting that Butler ( 29.04) has a better efficiency rating than Leonard (28.48).
“[They] just put in a lot of hard work,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Play with a chip on your shoulder and continue to add to their games. Kawhi has been great for them. … Yeah, they’re examples of guys that just put a lot of time into their games and how it pays off.”
What really sets these two players apart is their offense and defense, although Leonard has a solid offensive game, dropping 30 on the Hornets on Thursday, it’s clear he is much more of a threat on defense as The Hornets were shooting 4–5 against Kawhi as the primary defender, 4 of the Hornets’ 5 turnovers were forced with Leonard as the primary defender to add as well. Butler on the other end has become a scoring machine, scoring 35 on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets and a season high 40 on the Los Angeles Lakers last Sunday. In their past 2 games Jimmy Butler has attempted 26 free-throws — Leonard only attempted 9.
Comparing Butler’s and Leonard’s improvement from last season, again Butler is taking the edge shooting much more efficiently specifically from the 3-point line (compared to last season .312) and drawing more fouls. While Leonard is averaging more points and steals, he is much less efficient shooting wise compared to last season, this could be the Duncan effect playing a part on this, however Kawhi is drawing more fouls than last season, but still Butler has the edge thus far.
Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard are both exceptional players both offensively and defensively, where Leonard has improved somewhat, Butler hasn’t stopped evolving into a better player consistently every season and has become on par, if not a more efficient player than Leonard. Still, Kawhi will have a great season and will improve throughout the season as the face of the Spurs, and with him in the MVP spotlight his success has suppressed the noise created by Butlers impressive performance so far, which may have slipped past fans that the Bulls forward has silently taken a step past Leonard. The question that still remains is, if Butler can consistently perform at this rate, will he be a better choice as a MVP candidate rather than Kawhi Leonard?