Bulls’ backcourt unwilling to take back seat to anyone
BY JOE COWLEY Staff Reporter April 6, 2014 8:14PM
Chicago Bulls guard D.J. Augustin (14) goes to the basket against Washington Wizards forward Al Harrington (7) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, April 5, 2014, in Washington. Harrington was called for a foul on the play. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) ORG XMIT: VZN103
Updated: April 7, 2014 12:56PM
Very little throws Jimmy Butler off his game these days.
Playing all 48 minutes? No problem. Locking up against LeBron James in crunch time? Another day on the job.
But taking a compliment from teammate Kirk Hinrich? That’s when Butler starts to flinch.
‘‘Kirk didn’t mean that,’’ Butler said, smiling and shaking his head. ‘‘Kirk doesn’t ever give me any compliments, so no way he meant that.’’
‘‘I don’t care if our backcourt goes unrecognized or not,’’ Hinrich said when asked about the Bulls’ guards being overlooked since Derrick Rose was lost for the season Nov. 22. ‘‘I mean, D.J. [Augustin] is having a great year, but Jimmy is the glue. I feel like Jimmy is a huge part of our team, both what he does offensively and defensively. [He brings] a lot of versatility on both ends of the floor. Whether that gets the recognition or not for our backcourt, we’re fine. We’re solid.’’
They’re more than solid. Hinrich, Butler and Augustin might not be household names outside the Chicago area, but try telling that to Washington Wizards guards Bradley Beal and John Wall. They became the latest duo to get a dose of how the Bulls’ backcourt can turn a basketball game into a rough day at the office.
In their 96-78 victory Saturday, the Bulls took away Wall’s drive-and-dish game and Beal’s three-point shooting. Yes, the two combined for 34 points, but the Wizards were a minus-23 with Beal on the court and a minus-16 with Wall in the game.
Hinrich, Augustin and Butler combined for 39 points, and the Bulls were a plus-23 when Augustin and Butler were on the court.
‘‘Whether it’s praise or criticism really doesn’t matter,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if his backcourt was underappreciated by outsiders. ‘‘I know their teammates recognize how important they are and how good they are, and the coaching staff recognizes what they do on a nightly basis. That’s really the only thing that matters.
‘‘They’re playing for the team. When you get a group playing for the team, something special can happen.’’
In a season that seemed lost in early January, something special has been happening. Hinrich has stayed healthy and is playing elite defense. Augustin (14.6 points, 5.1 assists) was signed off the unemployment line and has resurrected his career.
Then there’s Butler. His 13.1 points, five rebounds and 2.5 assists per game don’t stand out, but his 38.3-minute average (fourth in the NBA) and the fact he defends the opposing team’s best player each game are more than appreciated by his teammates.
‘‘Just his versatility on both ends,’’ Hinrich said. ‘‘Defensively, he can guard anybody. Offensively, he’s one of the more versatile wing players, and he’s done that every night.’’
Even on nights when he goes 1-for-9 from the field and scores only three points, like he did Saturday.
‘‘He was out there
almost the whole game and, what, plus-23?’’ Hinrich said. ‘‘That’s how you know you’re getting the job done.’’
That’s all Butler seems to be focused on these days.
‘‘Pass the ball, rebound the ball and guard,’’ Butler said of his job description. ‘‘More than anything, I really don’t give a damn about my stats. As long as we’re winning, I’m good.’’