Jimmy Butler learns to be playmaker, not just shot taker

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Apparently, setting a career high with 14 assists in his last game was not enough to satisfy Jimmy Butler.

“Maybe next time, I’ll get 15,” Butler said with a grin after practice Tuesday. “We’ll find out.”

A steady diet of double teams has prompted the Bulls’ biggest shot taker to transform into a top playmaker. Butler has double-digit assists in each of his past three games after doing so only four times in his first 65 games.

Butler’s mindset has helped the Bulls (35-39) win two of their past three games to keep their postseason hopes alive. The next test comes Thursday against Cleveland, which likely will throw more double teams at the Bulls’ All-Star.

How will Butler know when to give up the ball without sacrificing the aggressiveness that defines his game?

“I’m learning,” said Butler, who is averaging 23.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists. “I think that all the film that I watch on myself and of other players getting double teamed, you just have to pick up on things a lot faster. I think I can still be better at it with my decision-making and what to do and when to do it.

“But I mean, hell, (74) games in, I guess it’s still a learning curve for me and for everybody else. Hopefully, I continue to make the right plays.”

Fred Hoiberg likes what he has seen in recent games from Butler and point guard Rajon Rondo. The duo combined for 23 of the team’s 33 assists Sunday afternoon in a sorely needed 15-point win over the Bucks.

“When he and Rondo are on the floor together, it gives you two very good playmakers and two guys who are willing to get in the paint and make the right play,” Hoiberg said.

Rondo said it was easy to adjust to Butler as a playmaker.

“There’s enough time in a game where both of us can handle the ball and make plays for our teammates,” Rondo said. “That’s just what we’re trying to do is make our team better. I believe in sharing the ball, and I think Jimmy’s doing a great job right now of making plays for his teammates.”

Butler was asked whether Rondo helped him as a playmaker.

“Here and there, but I’m a smart enough basketball player to figure things out on my own,” Butler said. “I watch a lot of film, so there’s not too many people that can tell me what to do. I’m watching it unfold myself after the game or before, whatever it may be. I think that the film is the best help for that.”

On the mend

Cristiano Felicio, who has missed the past three games because of a bruised tailbone, did not participate in Tuesday’s practice.

“He did a lot of non-contact stuff,” Hoiberg said. “He’s moving around pretty well but still has some soreness, so the big thing is to give him a couple more days to hopefully get himself right.”

Hoiberg said Felicio “potentially” could play Thursday against the Cavaliers depending on his progress.

Playing defense

Speaking of Thursday’s showdown against Cleveland, Butler turned tight-lipped when asked whether LeBron James was still the hardest player to guard in the NBA.

“You’re not gonna pull me into that,” Butler said playfully.

Why so evasive?

“If I say he is, then the next time I play Kevin Durant, he’s going to try to score 60,” Butler said. “Or Devin Booker is gonna try to give me 70. So, no, you’re not gonna get me. Not today.”

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