Bulls’ Butler shines in summer league action


Jul 23

Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Malcolm Thomas were among 13 players selected to receive 2012 NBA Summer League All-Star status. Voting was done by NBA TV and various NBA scouts as the games came to an end this past weekend in Las Vegas.

For Butler, it may have been an early indication that he’s ready to take on a bigger role this coming season. With the departure of Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, it’s an opportunity he’s talked openly about embracing. In recording three 20+ point games during summer league play, he let his play speak for itself.

Assistant coach Adrian Griffin, who served as the summer league squad’s head coach, was quick to praise Butler for his work ethic this offseason.

“He’s been putting in the time that it takes to succeed in the league, so I wasn’t surprised that he did so well in Las Vegas,” said Griffin on Monday of Butler, who averaged 20.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 43.1 percent from the field in four contests. “The future is bright for him if he continues with all the hours and this kind of dedication. He’ll have the opportunity to play next year, but it’s going to be up to him as far as how he develops and whether he is truly ready.”

As for what kind of role Butler may fulfill, Griffin envisions him as a player who will come in to games, defend, and provide a little extra intensity and energy.

“We’ll definitely count on Jimmy to defend,” Griffin said of Butler. “Obviously, he’s a very talented young player in the league. But in order to help your team, someone has to do what I like to call the dirty work—diving on the floor, hustling, and shutting down the top player on the other team.”

Thomas, on the other hand, hopes that his summer league effort was enough to help secure a full time spot on an NBA roster. Last season, the 6-9, 225-pound forward played in three games for the San Antonio Spurs, while splitting time among three teams in the NBA Developmental League.

“Anytime you go out and play in the summer league as a free agent, your main objective is to help yourself and not hurt yourself,” said Griffin of Thomas, who averaged 11.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game while connecting on 53.5 percent shot attempts in five contests. “I thought that Malcolm helped himself as a player.”

While it seems likely Thomas will be invited to some team’s training camp, landing a full-time spot remains to be seen. But, Griffin says, Thomas has what it takes to do just that.

“When you evaluate a player like Malcolm, you ask yourself if he can help an NBA ballclub,” said Griffin of Thomas. “Based on his performance in summer league, the answer is yes. He put up some enormous rebounding efforts and he was able to score the ball too. But he’s a guy that could come into an NBA game if you needed a block, rebound or a defensive stop.”

Griffin also liked what he saw in Marquis Teague, whom the Bulls drafted with the 29th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

Teague averaged 10.6 points, 3.0 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game. And though he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, converting only 29.4 percent of his attempts from the field, Griffin was impressed by the way the 19-year old rookie bounced back from a rough summer league debut.

“In the first game, he struggled shooting the ball,” said Griffin of Teague, who converted on four of 17 shots in the Bulls’ opener. “But in the second game, he was more into the flow of things and he bounced back, which is all you want to see with young guys.”

Indeed, Teague’s best statistical outing came in Chicago’s second contest, when he finished with 14 points on six of 13 shooting to go with five assists.

“Hopefully he keeps improving game to game, week to week, month to month, and season to season,” said Griffin of Teague. “Marquis is another young prospect who has to continue to work and put in the time that it takes to play at this level.”

“When he’s into the ball and his body is active, he can be a very good defensive player,” added Griffin of Teague. “The times he did get into the ball, he caused a lot of turnovers. Offensively, he’s got the skills to get into the paint off penetration. When he’s at his best, he’s kicking the ball out to open shooters. We saw a lot of good things from Marquis, but of course, it’s a learning curve. He’ll continue to develop this summer and we’ll see where he’s at when the season starts.”

One other intriguing player for the Bulls this summer was Leon Powe, a 6-8, 240-pound power forward with five seasons of NBA experience.

Though injuries have sidetracked Powe and he didn’t play in the league last season, his familiarity with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau from his days with the Boston Celtics could prove to be an asset when it comes down to his chances at landing on a team’s training camp roster.

Powe started all five of Chicago’s summer league games, but he never played more than 15 minutes per outing. Still, he finished with averages of 4.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, with is best performance coming against the Rockets, when he recorded nine points and six rebounds.

“It was nice to have Leon on the floor because he’s a veteran who could talk to the younger guys and calm them down if it was needed,” said Griffin of Powe. “I commend him for continuing to pursue his dream of getting back to the NBA. I had injuries as a player and it’s never easy to come back from a devastating injury to your knees, ankle or back. They can linger and sometimes you are never quite the same. But for Leon to come out and show that he can still play, I commend him for that.”

All in all, if developing Butler and Teague was a primary goal of the Bulls this summer, they got what they wanted. Butler showed he’s on the path to earning some additional playing time, while Teague showed he’s able to bounce back from a less than stellar game.

As Griffin stressed, both players will need to continue their hard work to further their development.

“I was happy to see Jimmy and Marquis competing, because we’re going to need both of them in the future,” said Griffin. “Marquis only had a few weeks to prepare since we drafted him, but Jimmy has been working hard all summer. So it was particularly gratifying to see him play the way he did. And after a rough start, Marquis had a couple solid games too, which was encouraging.”

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