Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler is the 2014-15 KiA NBA Most Improved Player.
Butler’s triumph is just another testament to the old adage that hard work does pay off.
His accolade is also a welcome respite from the string of news updates saying his head coach, Tom Thibodeau, has been butting heads with the Bulls’ front office.
The latest came from ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, who wrote on Wednesday that Thibodeau’s future calling the shots for the Bulls is “murky at best”:
This really might be the last, best chance for the Bulls as we know them. Thibodeau’s future in Chicago is murky, at best. He’s never come to blows with Bulls management, like former coach Vinny Del Negro did with executive vice president John Paxson, or fought a public war of words, like Phil Jackson and general manager Jerry Krause famously did to end the Bulls dynasty of the 1990s.
But the tension between Thibodeau and Chicago’s front office is very real and depending who you believe, possibly beyond repair.
In her report, Shelburne goes on to say the main point of contention between the two sides has been the way he’s been playing his starters—the Bulls don’t want them to overexert themselves while Thibodeau sees otherwise.
Well, there’s every reason to play—and pay—Jimmy Butler more.
For one, he’s held the for the Bulls this season when Derrick Rose got injured again. He’s transformed himself into a great two-way player who will only get better.
The rest of the league better take notice.
Jimmy Butler Is the 2014-15 KiA NBA Most Improved Player
The NBA issued a press release on Chicago Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler winning the 2014-15 KiA NBA Most Improved Player award on its official website on May 7:
The Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler, who earned his first All-Star selection and set career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists, has won the 2014-15 Kia NBA Most Improved Player Award, the NBA announced today. Butler becomes the first player to win the award for the Bulls.
The award is designed to honor an up-and-coming player who has made a dramatic improvement from the previous season or seasons. Butler, 25, received 92 of 129 first-place votes and 535 total points from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada.
Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors (11 first-place votes, 200 points) and Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz (12 first-place votes, 189 points) finished second and third, respectively.
Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote.
Butler, in his fourth NBA season, averaged 20.0 points (15th in the NBA), 5.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.75 steals (11th in the NBA) in a league-leading 38.7 minutes for a Chicago team that went 50-32 and secured the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The 6-7 guard shot 46.2 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from three-point range. He also ranked seventh in the league in free-throw attempts with 463 and converted a career-high 83.4 percent from the foul line in 65 games.
The unheralded Butler has certainly come a long, long way.
According to Sam Smith of the Bulls’ official website, Butler’s adolescent years didn’t get off to a good start when his single mother abandoned him when he was just 13 years old.
A native of Tomball, Texas, Butler got a new lease on life when a family adopted him. From there, he worked his way up to junior college near Houston, to Marquette University and eventually the 30th pick of the 2011 NBA draft, per Smith.
Thibodeau told Smith on Thursday he has not been the least bit surprised with Butler’s resurgence:
When you get to watch him play you realize and recognize how special he is. I believe he is one of the best two-way players in the league today. It hasn’t happened by accident.
The way he’s worked, it’s testament to his character and who he is as a person. To get to where he is today you have to have a lot of talent, which he does have. But when you combine that with his intelligence and his drive you get something special.
Thibodeau couldn’t have said it any better.
The Parting Shot
Jimmy Butler is not just this season’s Most Improved Player. He could very well be the Bulls’ next great two-way player after Scottie Pippen.
Late last year, the Bulls didn’t sign Butler to a new contract extension. With the way he’s performed this season, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Smith labels it as “a win for both he and the Bulls” as his stock literally soared, paving the way for a more lucrative deal down the road.
Butler is earning $2.1 million this season with a qualifying offer worth roughly $3.2 million in 2015-16, per HoopsHype.com.
With a new salary cap of $90 million in 2016-17 and $108 million in 2017-18, Butler is a sure bet to strike it rich. Butler earning $10 million per annum is not hard to imagine at all.
He has proven his value this season, so the Bulls must reward him with a bigger contract. And they will, maybe sometime this summer.
On the other hand, is there anything not to like about Butler?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
He’s now a bona fide 20-point scorer and defensive stopper par excellence. With San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard winning the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award two weeks ago, we are witnessing the recognition of two-way players who get the job done night in and night out.
We certainly hope that trend continues.
Congratulations, Jimmy Butler.