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Jimmy Butler has made a big jump in his second year with Bulls

Bulls forward Jimmy Butler points guard Kirk Hinrich after Hinrich assisted Butler's basket fourth quarter Chicago Bulls 101-97 wover Miami

Bulls forward Jimmy Butler points to guard Kirk Hinrich after Hinrich assisted on Butler's basket in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls 101-97 win over the Miami Heat Wednesday March 27, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 3, 2013 6:20AM



Jimmy Butler’s eyes rolled around the visiting locker room searching for a place to stare. A place where he could lose his thoughts. Or maybe try to collect them.

He settled on the floor, on three towels spread underneath his feet.

It lasted for less than a minute, as he gave the head nod to the awaiting media, basically calling over the firing squad.

And just like that, the maturation for the second-year Bulls player continued. The latest lesson? ­Accountability.

“I’m supposed to be a good free-throw shooter [at 83 percent], I step up and miss two,’’ Butler said after the team lost Saturday in Dallas. “I don’t care what anyone says, that’s the reason we lost the game. I could care less what my teammates say, I know better.

“This one is on me without a doubt. That’s that.’’

Actually it wasn’t. Butler’s two missed free throws with 15 seconds left were key, but they weren’t the only mistakes that factored into Dirk Nowitzki’s game-winning three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left. Butler just happened to be the only Bull to wear that responsibility.

A day later with Detroit in town, Butler had six huge third-quarter points, keeping the Bulls within reach going into the fourth quarter, where they finally ran down the Pistons for the victory. Making another start in place of Marco ­Belinelli [strained abdomen], he finished with 16 points, five steals and four rebounds. It was as if Saturday never happened.

So while coach Tom Thibodeau raves about the high ceiling that Butler can reach on the NBA stage, it’s not just the physical makeup that makes him optimistic. It’s ­other attributes that don’t show up in the box score.

“[Butler] has a great demeanor,’’ Thibodeau said. “He just competes. That’s huge. He doesn’t take any plays off. If he makes a mistake, he plays so hard he can overcome it. He brings energy. You don’t have to wind him up, he brings energy every day.’’

What Thibodeau really appreciates is Butler’s commitment to improve from his rookie season.

Averaging just under nine minutes a game fresh out of Marquette, Butler’s 2011-12 season was hard knocks. He averaged 2.6 points and struggled from outside, shooting 18 percent from beyond the three-point line.

Now playing 23.8 minutes a game, Butler averages 7.8 points while shooting 33 percent on three-pointers. In his 10 starts, Butler not only has averaged 44.2 minutes, but he has rung up 14.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals.

He has made an argument that he could be a starter next season at the 2 or the 3 if the Bulls can’t re-sign free agent-to-be Belinelli.

That is a scenario Butler is more than ready for, especially the part about putting in high minutes on every night.

“It’s easy because when I look across this locker room and I see [Luol Deng], I know what he goes through each and every night,” Butler said, pointing to Deng’s league-leading minutes total. “So it’s like, ‘OK, I’ve done this four, five, six times.’ He does this 82 times. I can’t complain.’’

As far as what Butler could become in the next few years, particularly in the Bulls’ defense-first system, Thibodeau said the ceiling is high.

“Oh yeah, and the guy is in just his second year,’’ Thibodeau said. “As long as he continues to work, which there is no reason to believe that he won’t, he’s going to continue to get better and better. He showed a great commitment last summer, and just the way he works every day. Those types of guys ­always get better.’’



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