Jimmy Butler’s Knack For Playing The Passing Lanes

Jimmy Butler, lover of country music, Chicago Bulls fan favorite, and defensive prowess. Those are generally the words that can be used to describe the third year wing out of Marquette.

For most young players entering the NBA defense is the one area where they tend to struggle. This may entail learning certain schemes, whether to go over or under a pick-and-roll depending on the player, seeing man and ball or simply losing their man while playing help defense. In the NBA it’s a different ball game, and defense is a hard concept for some to grasp.

imagesJimmy Butler in his short stint in the NBA has rapidly solidified himself as a stout defender. Butler’s stature as a ball hawking defensive wizard became apparent during last year’s playoffs. This season, with high expectations, even with a couple nagging injuries, Butler’s defense has remained spectacular.

Currently, Butler has a defensive rating of 97.8, good for seventh in the league among those averaging at least 30 minutes per game, having played at least 30 games this year, per NBA.com. An area on the defensive end that’s garnered more attention from Butler has been his steals per game. Last year, Butler was averaging 1 spg, about average in the NBA. This year, he’s up his steals to two per game, tied for fifth in the NBA.

The rise in Butler’s steals can be contributed to his ability to play the passing lanes. Below is a compiled series of defensive clips by Jimmy Butler in which he plays the passing lanes perfectly, resulting in a steal, or deflection.

His peripheral vision is outstanding, his ability to see man and ball is what allows him to make the plays as seen above. Butler has an extremely high basketball IQ, and is always in the right position off the ball, ready to pounce when the opportunity presents itself.

In the clips it may not as apparent, but Jimmy Butler does phenomenal job of stunting on defense. By stunting, this means that when the offensive player is dribbling the ball toward the hoop, Butler who is in help position while guarding his man (who would be standing in the corner) and ball, fakes at the offensive player as if he’s going to cut him off, bating him into passing the ball. If done correctly, which Butler manages to do very well, the offensive player will in turn, make a mistake, passing the ball to the un-open man resulting in a turnover.

One of the very first principles taught in the game of basketball on the defensive end is to see the ball and your man. And as seen time and time again, it seems as though that Jimmy Butler has developed a keen knack for playing the passing lanes. Butler is never standing still, always in a stance, his feet constantly moving, legs churning and head on swivel, locating ball and man.


Jimmy Butler is in the midst of his third year as pro and he still has room to learn and grow. Being able to play the passing lanes and stunt combined with suffocating on-ball defense is what makes Jimmy Butler such a special player. In a league full of premier wing defenders such as Paul George, Luol Deng, Andre Iguodala and Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler is right there with them, being an anchor of one of the best defensive teams in the league.

In a season of lost hope for the Chicago Bulls, one of the few bright spots to be found is their defense, which remains as one of the best. Jimmy Butler in a mere, short three years has blossomed into a perennial All-NBA defensive player, his on-ball defense insufferable, his help-defense mesmerizing. Offensively Butler is still a work in progress, but it’s his defense that makes him such a valuable part of the Chicago Bulls and their identity.

(Via Hoops-Nation.com, Tyler Pleiss. You can follow him on Twitter at @ThePleissIsRite)

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