Tag Archives: usage rate

Do the numbers support a Derrick Rose-Jimmy Butler beef?

In the aftermath of Chicago’s disappointing loss to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers this postseason, many wanted to point fingers. Tom Thibodeau took the brunt of the blame and was fired. Joakim Noah, who looked like a Walking Dead zombie for much of the season, has taken heat from fans and analysts alike who worry he’ll never return to his Defensive Player of the Year form. Yet from the rubble of the horrific Game Six loss to the Cavs arose a story I never saw coming.

According to Dan Bernstein of CBS Chicago, a rift had formed between Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Bernstein argued that the body language displayed during the final 24 minutes of the Bulls’ season was indicative of a growing feud between the two All-Stars.

Making such a claim based on a single evening of poorly played basketball is very silly. Chris Terzic wrote a great piece for Blog-a-Bull refuting Bernstein’s aggressive assertion that Rose checked out of Game Six for personal reasons. He used this crazy concept called “visual evidence” to show that Rose’s low number of field goal attempts was not due to indifference, but rather him taking what the defense was giving and trying to make the best play for the team.

But what if Bernstein was on to something? Derrick Rose has been the unquestioned alpha dog in Chicago ever since his arrival. He’d never played alongside anyone who deserved to dominate the ball for stretches, especially not another guard. The argument could be made that Rose was simply not accustomed or prepared to turn over as much offensive responsibility as Butler had earned last season. What I set out to do is parse through some statistics to figure out how the Butler and Rose duo fared last summer, and determine if there’s any statistical evidence to support a rift.

The Rose Effect on Butler

Jimmy Butler took huge strides on the offensive end last season. He set career highs in scoring, rebounding and assists. His improved three point shooting was a vital addition to his game and turned Jimmy into a major threat. After shooting just 28% on threes in 2014, Butler increased his average to 37.8%. There’s no doubt he put in countless hours in the gym improving his stroke from all around the perimeter, but there may have been a hidden reason for Butler’s massive one year improvement.

Jimmy played just over 2500 minutes last season. For 1216 of those minutes, roughly half of Butler’s court time, Derrick Rose was also on the court. According to NBAwowy, in the minutes that Butler played without Rose, his three point shooting fell to 31.6%. When Butler and Rose shared the floor, Butler’s three point shooting skyrocketed up to over 41%. Butler clearly seems to have benefited from the extra attention defenses pay to Rose and was able to find open threes that weren’t available when Aaron Brooks or Kirk Hinrich manned the point.

Having Rose on the court may have helped free up open shots, but it hampered other aspects of Butler’s game. Jimmy Butler was quietly one of the more effective pick and roll ball handlers in the NBA last season. His high efficiency on these plays can be attributed to his ability to barrel through the paint and draw fouls on the way to the basket. On the season, Butler posted a free throw rate (FTr) of .508. According to NBAwowy, when Butler was playing without Rose his FTr increased to .530. But with the ball dominant Rose on the court, that number fell to .410. While Rose definitely had a positive influence on Butler’s shooting, he also curbed Butler’s aggressive play by turning him into a second banana waiting for kickouts on the perimeter.

Rose Just Isn’t The Same Player Anymore

For all the excitement surrounding Derrick Rose’s first (somewhat) healthy season in two years, the truth is that he was not good enough the justify how much he dominated the ball. Rose shot just 40% from the field and 28% from three on an absurd 5.3 attempts per game. He was often reluctant to drive to the basket and draw contact. He averaged under four free throw attempts per game and a FTr of just .224, his lowest since his rookie season. Rose was ineffective shooting the ball and initiating the offense, but it never stopped him from trying. Rose posted a usage rate of 31.7% last year, the fifth highest in the NBA–a higher rate than James Harden, a guy who basically ran an entire offense on his own at times.

If there is truly any bad blood between Butler and Rose, the source of it is Rose’s inefficient play and wild overconfidence in his three point stroke. When Butler played without the former MVP on the court, he posted a healthy usage rate of 24.6%. But with both starting guards on the court, Butler’s usage dropped to 21.8%, around league average. With both guys on the court, Rose still soaked up 30.6% of offensive possessions.

I can’t blame Jimmy for being frustrated with his teammate looking at these numbers. After spending countless grueling hours to improve his game, Butler was still being treated like a complimentary piece in the Derrick Rose show. Anyone who watched the Bulls last season could tell that Butler was the best all-around player on the team. The only person who might not have realized it was Derrick Rose.

Why It Doesn’t Matter

Some of the usage imbalance will hopefully be cleared up by new coach Fred Hoiberg’s offensive system. Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams were great about whipping the ball around the court in an effort to create open looks for everybody. Far too many Bulls possessions last season resulted in the ball sticking on one side of the floor. The basic offensive scheme the Bulls used last year was too often snuffed out and forced Chicago to take bad shots as the shot clock ticked down. With a more uptempo offense in place, Rose and Butler will both be able to put themselves in better position to score without having to force the issue. A more free flowing offense with better ball distribution should keep everyone happy.

Jimmy Butler knows this better than anyone. It’s why he agreed to return to Chicago for at least four more years when he could have fought to re-enter free agency after three. He knows that this group has a championship window right now, and should he and Derrick learn to use each other more effectively that window could stay open for years to come. There may have been some tension at the close of last season, but any “beef” has certainly been squashed.

The Butler: An Unexpected Journey

Jimmy Butler has been a fan favorite for most of his Bulls career, but it wasn’t until this season that he’s played like a true All-Star on both ends of the floor. I won’t get into his incredible life story, but it’s well worth a read if you’re unfamiliar. Most players as talented as Jimmy are great offensive players who take longer to become consistent defenders, if ever (like James Harden or Carmelo Anthony). Butler is the rare player who came out of the gate as an elite defender and has, early on this season, developed into a high level offensive player as well.

While the Bulls are no doubt ecstatic about this development, it has come at a particularly opportune time for Butler financially. In the NBA, first round picks are under cheap, cost-controlled rookie contracts for their first four seasons. The deadline for teams to agree to extensions with these players is on Halloween of their fourth season. (You might remember Taj Gibson receiving his contract extension at the buzzer two seasons ago). After Jimmy’s extremely disappointing campaign on the offensive end last year (which we’re about to dig into), the Bulls were hesitant to hand Butler the $12 million per year plus he wanted. With Butler on the shelf to start the year, the two sides agreed it would be mutually beneficial to revisit contract talks after the season.

jimmy butler

Of course, this could be horrific for Bulls fans. After the season, Butler will be a restricted free agent, where any team can sign him to an offer sheet that the Bulls will have the ability to match. While the Bulls have expressed that they’re happy to match a big contract if Jimmy is worth it, one only needs to look at Houston, Dallas and Chandler Parsons to see how dicey things can get when a savvy team gets creative with the offer sheet. In fact, stay in Houston for a moment and you’ll remember that the Bulls lost Omer Asik to a backloaded offer sheet that had more consequences for Chicago than Houston. The Bulls’ front office was confident about retaining Asik as well.

If Butler keeps up his current level of play, the Bulls will likely match a maximum offer sheet, especially if Derrick Rose’s health issues exacerbate and it becomes time to consider building around other young players like Butler. Let’s take a look at how Butler’s game has gone on the titular unexpected journey towards stardom. Here are Jimmy’s traditional box score statistics over the last three seasons (he didn’t get much run his rookie year):

(stats via Basketball-Reference)
(stats via Basketball-Reference)

The numbers that stand out first are the constant increases in scoring. What’s important to note is that Butler’s minutes increased by nearly 50% from 2012-13 to 2013-14 but have remained at the same insanely high level for this season. He’s fluctuated wildly in terms of efficiency from range, but this season’s small sample size is probably the most indicative of his true rate. While Jimmy’s not bricking his threes this year, he’s upped his scoring in multiple ways. Originally thought to have the ceiling of a “3 and D” guy who could lock down top scorers and knock down shots from the corners, Butler has instead become a dynamic playmaker.

To really dig in, we need to look at the advanced stats, which are actually quite simple. Usage % is an estimate of the possessions that a player uses while he’s on the floor. With five guys on each team, an average usage rate would be 20%. Free throw rate (FTr) is the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt; it tells us how proficient a guy is at getting to the charity stripe. Three point attempt % (3PA%) is the percentage of FG attempts that come from long distance. Assist, rebound and steal rate measure how often a player accrues those statistics. Finally, Win Shares per 48 Minutes (WP/48) quantifies the number of “wins” a player contributes on a per game basis. It’s a stat that encompasses many aspects of the game and the career leaders are MJ, David Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Chris Paul and LeBron. (All advanced stats besides FT rate do not include Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets):

stats via Basketball-Reference
(stats via Basketball-Reference)

The most shocking development in Jimmy’s game has been his usage rate. For his first three seasons in the league, Butler was a markedly below average player in terms of volume on offense. At times last season he would disappear for entire halves. Of course Butler was playing through turf toe, but his role was severely diminished regardless. Jimmy has not just been an important part of the offense this year; he’s been the integral part. Using almost 23% of possessions has made Butler the first or second option most nights on a team that has played far more often than not without its highest usage player (Derrick Rose).

Key to Butler’s increased volume has been the efficiency coming with it. On last season’s anemic Bulls squad, Jimmy took a very high 34.6% of his field goal attempts from long distance. Because he shot so poorly from range, he brought very little value on the offensive side of the floor. By bringing that number under 20% in the early part of this season, Butler has regained his efficiency through a vastly improved post game and constant activity cutting and driving to the basket. Furthermore, taking less contested jumpers has brought Jimmy’s three point percentage up to a more acceptable 33%.

Of course, the most important part of Jimmy Butler’s emerging offensive game is his ridiculous free throw rate. After setting a career high with 18 free throws made in 20 attempts in Denver, Butler’s free throw rate now stands at .588 which is higher than DeMarcus Cousins and free throw legend James Harden!!! It’s no wonder Stacey King loves comparing Butler to Harden (.579 FT rate). Getting to the stripe has always been a big part of Jimmy’s game, but it’s been a delight seeing him continue to rack up free throws as his volume increases so significantly.

Finally, we can see by using WS/48 that Butler may truly be ready to join the league’s elite. Going into Tuesday’s loss to Denver, his WS/48 of .209 would have ranked in the top ten in 2013-14 and is notably higher than his two previous seasons. Combining Jimmy’s constant All-NBA defense with his improved offensive game is lethal. If Butler can keep up what he’s shown thus far, he’ll be a no-brainer All-NBA and maximum contract player.