Jimmy Butler deserves to be mentioned with the elite after becoming Chicago's leader

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Every so often in the NBA, there comes a period where a team must make an important decision that could impact the future of the franchise.

That moment came last summer for the Chicago Bulls when they decided to trade the 2011 MVP and hometown star Derrick Rose and hand the reigns of the team to Jimmy Butler.

Due to Rose's unfortunate injury problems, Butler emerged as the Bulls' franchise player and it was clear the duo were struggling to co-exist on the floor as they both wanted to be the alpha-male.

Chicago's front office had no hesitation in choosing Butler and in the early parts of this season, it's looking like an inspired decision.


When All-Star duo Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo signed for the Bulls in free agency, they immediately made it clear that this was Butler's team and they were the supporting cast.

That erased any potential headlines going into the campaign and gave the 27-year-old the confidence to go out and play his best basketball and lead the team.

The first test of his leadership came after just six games. The Bulls started the year in impressive fashion by winning their opening three games, but that was quickly followed by three straight losses.

The two-time All-Star called his team out for their lack of effort and competitive spirit. But instead of just criticising his teammates, Butler put the Bulls on his back and has led by example since.

The Marquette product has guided Chicago to six wins in its last nine games. The Bulls are now 9-6 and near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, in large part because of Butler.

A clear sign of his growing confidence and influence in the team came in a recent road win over the Los Angeles Lakers where Jimmy B put up 40 points. Head coach Fred Hoiberg revealed after the game that the player told him he would post that exact number.

Switching positions

Butler has moved from his usual shooting guard position to become a small forward and accommodate Wade this year, but his production has not taken a hit, it's been the complete opposite.

The former Most Improved Player is averaging a career-best 25.8 points, 4.1 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game, whilst shooting 48 percent from the field.

He's also being much more aggressive driving the ball and is averaging a career-high 9.2 free throws a night. Butler is also shooting a career-best 42.6 percent from three, which is a significant increase from last season's 31.2 percent from behind the arc.

"I think to an extent, the game tells you what you're supposed to do." Butler said about his evolving game after a recent win in Portland, per CBS Sports. "I think year to year, I've been in a different role and now, the role is a little bit bigger than it was last year.

"So I'm called upon, to do a lot more on both ends of the floor. I think that's what the game tells me to do. That's the way the game goes. But with the group of guys we have, they constantly remind me what I have to be doing out there on the floor."

Chris Palmer, a senior NBA writer for Bleacher Report, took to Twitter last night to compare Butler to San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and questioned why he isn't regarded in the same way as the Spurs star.

He certainly has a valid point. Leonard is averaging 24.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg and three apg and is shooting 45 percent. Those numbers are below Butler's at this stage but he is rarely in the MVP conversation and put on the same pedestal.

In that case, the Bulls superstar can class himself as slightly underrated, which he definitely shouldn't be. He is one of the best two-way players in the league and has taken his game to new heights in the Windy City this year with the added responsibility.

"Jimmy thinks every time he steps on the floor he's the best player out there," Hoiberg said. "More often than not, he's right."

Maybe it's time that others thought this too.

Eastern Conference
Dwyane Wade
Miami Heat
Southeast Division
Jimmy Butler
Chicago Bulls
Central Division

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