How Jimmy Butler Won The NBA’s Most Improved Player Award

Among the many questions I asked prior to the Bulls’ 2014-15 campaign, I wondered aloud if Jimmy Butler could have a career year.

Butler won the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, running away with it by getting 71.3 percent of the first-place votes. But it’s how Butler got there which is most impressive and a primary reason why the Bulls are where they are today.

It’s easy to cite the increase of his scoring average from 13.1 points to 20.0 points per game, but look how he made that leap.

Butler increased his offensive efficiency behind the strength of his improved field goal shooting (up to 46.2 percent from 39.7 percent), 3-point shooting (up to 37.8 percent from 28.3 percent) and free-throw shooting (up to 83.4 percent from 76.9 percent). Further, Butler found himself getting to the charity stripe with more frequency, a needed skill considering the stagnant nature the Bulls offense has at times. Butler increased his free-throw attempts to 7.1 per game, which ranked sixth in all of basketball.

While Butler’s improvement in regard to the traditional stats will garner much of the attention today, it was his improved shot selection that dictated how much he would improve this season.

Last year, long 2s and 3-pointers made up 59 percent of his shot attempts — and he only made 30 percent of those attempts. One year later, those kinds of shots only represented only 43 percent of Butler’s shot attempts. He increased his efficiency on those attempts, too, making 37 percent.

This season, 56 percent of Butler’s shots came from 16-feet and in — an improvement over last year when only 48 percent of his shots came from that distance. Again, Butler saw increased efficiency on those shots, making nearly 53 percent of his attempts. Much of Butler’s damage here was done in the paint, where 45 percent of his attempts game from in 2014-15. A year ago, we were looking at Butler’s shots in the paint representing only 36 percent of his attempts.

I might not ever find my answer, but I’m curious to know what got into Butler this season. And I don’t want to hear anything about it being a contract year as the reason why he has increased productivity. His shot selection and efficiency improved dramatically in one season. So much so that it should be a story itself.

Did the increased shooting efficiency come as a result of hard work put in during the summer? Did he hire a shooting instructor to guide him? Did improved shot selection come from within? Watching and analyzing game tape? A helping hand from coaches?

These are legit questions I would love to have asked and answered in regard to Butler’s year-to-year improvement.

All in all, Butler’s breakout year should have made a lot of fans forget about Luol Deng. In fact, Butler has provided the Bulls more than Deng did by being more efficient with his shot selection, while also bringing top-notch defensive effort. He is the balanced player the Bulls wish they could have gotten out of Deng on a more consistent basis.

Butler’s work isn’t done yet, as the Bulls find themselves tied 1-1 with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semis. A place the Bulls wouldn’t be without Butler’s improved performance.


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