Make no mistake about it: The backcourt duo of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler is the key to the Chicago Bulls’ title hopes.
In his April 20 blog, Sam Smith of the Bulls’ official website says Rose and Butler’s combined 48-point production (Butler had 25 points while Rose had 23) in a 103-91 Game 1 victory over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks on April 18 should be a sign of good things to come for the franchise.
That’s the second-best production among starting backcourts in Game 1 of the 2014-15 playoffs. Only the Splash Brothers duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, with their combined 55-point effort in a 106-99 Game 1 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday was better, per Smith.
Their combined 46-point outburst (Butler scored 31 points while Rose contributed 15 points) against the Bucks in a chippy, 91-82 Game 2 win on Monday is a strong indication they have no signs of slowing down.
If Rose and Butler keep up this pace, they could just bring Chicago its first NBA title in 17 years.
You can’t help but be happy for both Rose and Butler should the Bulls’ postseason success continue in 2014-15. Rose has played in just 61 regular-season games over the past two years due to nagging right-knee issues.
On the other hand, Butler, one of the best two-way players at his position, is enjoying his finest season as a pro. He averaged 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the regular season, per ESPN stats.
By being more assertive on both ends of the court in Rose’s prolonged absence, Butler earned his first All-Star Game nod in February.
Maybe, just maybe, Rose’s injury issues paved the way for Butler’s rise to prominence and possibly a title for the Bulls this season.
Sam Smith Says The Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler Backcourt Duo Are the Key To Chicago’s Title Hopes in 2015
Veteran Chicago sports writer Sam Smith says Jimmy Butler’s rise this season has resulted in the Chicago Bulls having one of the best backcourt tandems in the NBA.
“But now that Butler has emerged and has shown he can play that way consistently, the possibilities becoming enticing and potentially exciting for the Bulls,” Smith wrote on the Bulls’ official website on April 20. “Suddenly, they have one of the most explosive and intimidating backcourts in the NBA.”
Check out how Rose and Butler’s combined 48-point production in their playoff opener against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 18 fared against their counterparts’ Game 1 output, per Smith:
- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: 55 points
- Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls: 48 points
- Chris Paul and J.J. Redick, Los Angeles Clippers: 42 points
- James Harden and Jason Terry, Houston Rockets: 40 points
- Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, Cleveland Cavaliers: 39 points
- Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver, Atlanta Hawks: 38 points
- Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis, Dallas Mavericks: 31 points
- Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks: 27 points
- John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington Wiazards: 26 points
- Mike Conley and Courtney Lee, Memphis Grizzlies: 25 points
Not only that, Rose and Butler earned their place in Bulls lore this season by being the third-highest scoring backcourt in Bulls franchise history, Smith adds:
- Michael Jordan and John Paxson, 48.4 PPG, 1986-87
- Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich, 38.0 PPG, 2006-07
- Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, 37.7 PPG, 2014-15
- Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon, 37.5 PPG, 2008-09
- Clem Haskins and Jerry Sloan, 35.9 PPG, 1969-70
Bulls forward Taj Gibson told Smith on Monday that Butler and Rose playing at a high level opens up endless possibilities for the team:
To have Derrick and Jimmy at the same time who can make plays, it’s great, really great. Because they’re (Bucks) hugging the bigs, trying to keep us away from the boards for second shots.
When you have Derrick and Jimmy attacking, they (defense) know they have to step up and help the guards, it opens a whole bunch. It’s been working for us lately and it’s good to see Derrick and Jimmy getting those wide-open layups.
We always knew Jimmy could do that. But as of late he’s been blossoming into a great player. His confidence is even better than last year. Now he’s taking it upon himself to be that guy and now he’s stepping up.
Sam stresses Butler’s ball-handling and all-around prowess as a shooting guard have been invaluable to the Bulls’ cause. He argues Rose has never had a teammate who plays the 2-spot as well as Butler does.
With this, opposing defenses cannot afford to focus their attention solely on Rose. If they bottle up Butler, he can create scoring opportunities for Rose in shooting guard spaces.
This is what precisely the Bulls did against the Bucks in Game 1, when they hit three crucial triples in the third quarter to pull away for good.
The Parting Shot
Without a doubt, the backcourt tandem of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler is the key to the Chicago Bulls’ title aspirations.
Butler’s game has risen to new heights this season. Smith is spot on in his argument: Butler is not only one of the Bulls’ primary scoring option, he’s also a potential decoy who can kick the ball out to Rose for the wide-open perimeter jump shot.
Rose being out for such a long time resulted in Butler to increase his point production by almost seven points from last season to the current one (13.1 to 20.0).
Butler took on more of the load on offense, being the only 20-point scorer for the Bulls this season. Rose returned from his third right-knee surgery on April 8, just less than two weeks before the postseason kicked off.
That gave Rose enough time to get his groove back. And when he took the court again, he was paired with a better —much better —Jimmy Butler.
Now, Chicago (barring another Rose injury) has a backcourt which ought to be in the East’s Top 5. Right now, it would be a stretch to say this duo is better than the Splash Brothers, because it isn’t.
But at least it’s right up there with Irving-Smith, Teague-Korver and Wall-Beal.
A combined Game 1 point-production is too shallow a basis to see if Rose and Butler can take the Bulls to the Promised Land. However, their success in Game 2 could be an indication.
If they play well on the road, the Bulls should easily advance. If they don’t, they’ll give the sixth-seeded Bucks a chance.
There’s no question Rose and Butler are the main cogs of the Chicago offense. However, Pau Gasol and Mike Dunleavy can still contribute even if they are no longer spring chickens.
Don’t forget Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, the two main sparks off the Bulls’ bench.
For now, if Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler continue to go on a tear, LeBron James and the rest of the East better watch out.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of April 21 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.