Chicago Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler has described his recent play as “terrible” and “saddening” following the team’s disappointing home loss to the New York Knicks on Wednesday.
The defeat saw the Bulls drop out of the playoff picture as they battle with the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.
Since returning to the line-up on 14 March after a persistent knee problem, Butler's form has dipped and looks like a completely different player to the one that was lighting up the league in the first half of the season.
Butler initially injured his knee on February 5 against the Denver Nuggets and didn't return until March 5, missing the All-Star game in the process. In his absence, the Bulls went 4-8 and with their leading scorer struggling to rediscover his touch, the team has been unable to address their slide.
"I know this is a team game, but if one of your so-called best players is not doing what he's supposed to do, that's what's going to happen," Butler said about the result against the Knicks, via ESPN.
When asked if he was referring to himself, Butler replied: "Yeah. You see the way I've been playing lately. It's saddening. It's piss-poor. It's terrible. My teammates won't say it, my coaches won't say it, but I'm a realist. If I continue to play like this I'm hurting this team."
The honest assessment of his recent form is evidence of how the 26-year-old holds himself accountable as a leader of the team both on and off the court.
Against the Knicks, Butler shot 3-11 from the floor and finished with just seven points, meaning he has shot 12-35 in his last three games and looks like a player extremely low on confidence.
"Ain't nothing wrong with me physically," Butler said. "Right now it's mentally. The ball's not going in. I let that affect me on both ends of the floor. It better turn around quick, because I want to help this team get to the playoffs."
The Bulls have 12 games left to save their season and reach the playoffs, with eight of those games on the road.
The team's rookie coach Fred Hoiberg acknowledged that it was his responsibility to help Butler get back to his best and rebuild his confidence.
“I need to do something to get him going,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, via CSNChicago. “I need to get him a few easy baskets to get his confidence up. Once that happens, I’m confident Jimmy will take off.”
Even though he's eager to help the team win, Butler admits the best way he can do that at this stage is to not disrupt the rest of his team on offence by trying too hard and forcing the issue.
“I need to continue to get the ball to guys to get them going,” Butler said. “I think I should be able to score the ball at any time. Right now, pass the ball to guys who are making shots. I have to keep this group of guys in this locker room focused on making the playoffs. Even if I’m not making shots but we’re winning games, I can’t overthink this.”
Chicago have a perfect opportunity to quickly put the loss to the Knicks right tonight as they head to Madison Square Garden to square off against them again.