Make no mistake, the confidence the Bulls had in Butler's ability to take the next step in his offensive development was not wishful thinking -- it was rooted in past performance.
Remember that after a fairly successful regular season last year he ended up starting all 12 of the their postseason games, averaging 40.8 minutes, 13.3 points, and 5.2 rebounds per contest. More impressively, he shot 40.3 percent from beyond the three-point arc and looked in full control. It was a revelation at the time and gave the franchise every reason to think that he was ready to assume a larger role in the offense.
Those hopes have failed to materialize into anything substantial, and the problems run deeper than the pedestrian 10.5 points per game Butler is averaging. It is some of the more advanced statistics that are alarming. His 34.9 effective field-goal percentage, for example, is one of the worst in the league among shooting guards, and he is averaging a meager 0.25 points per touch, per NBA.com. That type of production is not conducive to winning basketball games in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.
Now there is a remedy for what ails Butler, and ESPN.com's Scoop Jackson nailed it. He said that the Marquette University product needs to "be more aggressive and assertive offensively. Stop over-thinking and just ball. Be more selfish. Act like he has a green light to do his thing."
In other words: Shoot. The. Ball.
Butler's average of 8.8 shots per game is simply not high enough to impact the defensive sets the Bulls face. Consider that Derrick Rose would not encounter as many double-teams and trap combinations as he is if Butler took advantage of the open looks he sees each game.
His tentativeness also has to be taken into consideration when dissecting the 106 turnovers the Bulls have committed as a team going into Friday's game with the Toronto Raptors. Without a viable option at the two, the point guard is won't to try and do too much with the ball, which then has a trickle-down effect on the team's spacing and their ability to set effective screens.
Defensively, Butler is one of the best guards in the game. He has a 96 defensive rating and 0.4 defensive win shares, which is good for second-best on the team in both categories behind All-Star center Joakim Noah. He is also tied for third in the NBA at his position -- trailing only the Houston Rockets' James Harden and the Memphis Grizzlies' Tony Allen -- with 2.00 steals per game.
Bulls fans were not excited this offseason because of his defense, however. He was supposed to be the second part of a dynamic backcourt. To be sure, Rose is struggling mightily and has his own problems to address, but Butler has not lived up to his end of the bargain, either.
Butler may never be a No. 2 scorer in the league, but he is certainly better than what we are seeing thus far, and if the Bulls (3-3) have any hope of taking the East, he is going to have to do better.
And that starts with taking more shots.
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