Butler finds his mojo after struggling last month
BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter February 6, 2014 10:34PM
Updated: February 6, 2014 11:15PM
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s been a strange season for Jimmy Butler.
That’s why he’s been a topic of discussion for Tom Thibodeau lately, with the Bulls coach reiterating the message for the third-year guard to just keep it simple.
Butler doesn’t need to fill the shoes of Luol Deng, he doesn’t need to give the Bulls an outside threat, he doesn’t need to pick up the slack for Derrick Rose, who was lost for the season with a right knee injury.
He just needs to be himself.
“Running the floor is so important to him, so important to us,’’ Thibodeau said on Thursday. “Moving without the ball, he’s great at that. And I think he’s back into moving without the ball, which is getting him to the free throw line.
“Now you look at his free throws, and when he gets seven, eight free throws in a game, that’s Jimmy. That’s him playing his game. He’s got a unique skill set and he’s got to take advantage of it.’’
Lately, he has been, averaging 15 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals over his last three games entering the showdown with the Warriors.
More importantly, he has his confidence back. That was a big question for Butler in January, when he was shooting 20 percent from beyond the three-point line, averaging 11.9 per game and looking down after games, win or lose.
Butler said last month he fought the temptation to do too much. “I always try not to step on anybody’s toes or try to change too much on the offensive end,” he said. “When you think about that too much, your job is to work through the good and the bad. Just go out there and play and take what the game gives you. That makes it a lot easier.’’
According to Butler, conversations he’s had with Rose have helped him settle back in.
“It helps because Derrick is always telling me, ‘Hey, you gotta take this shot because that’s what the game is giving you,’ ” Butler said.
More importantly, Butler has been healthy. He had a setback in the middle of training camp that slowed him down, and then a turf toe in November that put him back. As far as Thibodeau was concerned, Butler’s ability to practice is as big a factor as anything in his recent play.
“Because of what he’s done in the past, the way he works,’’ Thibodeau said, when asked how he knew Butler would get out of his rut. “Some of it was frustration because there was nothing he could do other than try and get to the gym and shoot as much as you can. But when you’re missing time, you can’t overlook how important it is to be practicing and playing every day.
“Now that he’s back to doing that, it’s there.’’