Last time we were all together in this space, I announced that Jimmy Butler was dead. That was evidently erroneous and inaccurate reporting. I apologize for that. I was just trying to honor a veteran.
I know now that Jimmy is not dead. In fact, he only missed 11 games for the Chicago Bulls, then returned triumphantly last week against the Charlotte Hornets, scoring 19 points in 40-ish drama-filled minutes of action.
And boy, what a comeback it was!
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about it from Dan Rather, Peter Jennings or that other guy on NBC. But let’s recap anyway!
“I’M BACK,” Jimmy faxed to reporters last weekend, setting off a nationwide media firestorm and sending Chicagoans rushing to newspaper stands for yesterday’s latest info, then home to their TVs to watch the six o’clock news, because there really is no other way to receive and consume such monumental information.
With those two words, the nation had shoved aside other important news like the upcoming presidential race and growing unrest in the Middle East, completely focusing its attention on the Chicago Bulls star.
Fans across the country were nervous about his return all week, wondering whether or not the 1-time potential MIP was going to get back to his old self.
It was clear: The time Jimmy spent away from basketball had changed people’s perception of him as an athlete. Would he ever be the same again?
Sports Illustrated’s “Bag It, Jimmy” article certainly didn’t help. The article was probably based on an Instagram photo of him carrying a bunch of groceries out of the supermarket – with no bag. No way that can be good for your elbows.
Neither did crazy rumors that David Stern had actually punched Jimmy in the elbow because he and Tim Donaghy had been betting against the Bulls (no Rose, no Butler, good bet). Somehow, the rumors didn’t blow up on Twitter, and Katie Nolan didn’t podcast about them.
What is this, 1995?
Butler did look a little bit different in his return, I guess, but maybe that was just because he hadn’t played in so long. His haircut was different, and he was hanging his tongue, probably from being a little out of shape after being out so long.
He wore a pair of his vintage sneakers in the return, and even donned a different jersey number (54, I think? Who knows.) He said he did it to honor his older brother Larry Butler, but most of us think it was really just for the drama of it all.
His steady 19 points led the Bulls to a 98-86 win over Michael Jordan’s Hornets.
Two nights later, he hung a double nickel on the Knicks (5 steals, 5 made field goals) in a 110-86 win, signaling to everyone that The Jimmy Butler is back.
Bulls fans were delirious.
Still though, I think they should temper their enthusiasm just a little bit. Derrick Rose hasn’t made his comeback yet, and there’s no way Chicago is winning a title without him.
Yes, Jimmy Butler is great and all.
But he’s no MJ.
On to the rankings.
1. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls. In the end, Michael, er, Jimmy only missed 11 games, which is pretty fortunate considering some of the ominous reports that first came out when he got hurt. He played 40 minutes in his return last week, scoring 19 points and ripping down nine boards in a win over the Hornets. Jimmy followed that up with 23 on 7-of-8 shooting, then tallied 18 and five steals in a cruise-control win over the Knicks. He hasn’t missed a beat since his return, and his performance vaults him back into the No. 1 spot. We missed you, Jimmy.
2. Hassan Whiteside, Miami Heat. First off, we should have been calling him Fight-side all this time. Wow. That’s an oversight on my part. Hassan will return to the lineup on Tuesday after injuring his hand against the Bucks last week. Take out the first month of the season, when Erik Spoelstra didn’t know he had the next Bill Russell on his hands, and Whiteside is averaging 13 and 11 for the season, up from N/A and N/A a year ago and 1.6 and 2.2 in 2011-12 with the Kings. Jimmy Butler or not, it’s hard to argue with that improvement.
3. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors. He’s coming out of a mini-shooting slump, having scorched the Grizzlies on Friday with 28 points on 6-of-9 stroking from deep. The Warriors have won nine in a row and 15 of 16. Now that Kevin Durant is out for the playoffs, Golden State should have a much easier time with OKC in their looming first-round series. And if the Blazers and Clippers stay in the 4-5 matchup, it’d be hard to imagine either one taking out the Warriors. (GS is 4-1 against those two so far this season). For all you haters out there: This team is for real, and you’ll be watching them play long into spring.
4. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz. Utah is growing up before our very eyes and (tears welling), it makes us so proud. On February 6, the Jazz were 17-33. Since then, they are 16-8 and have posted wins over the Blazers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Thunder. “The Stifle Tower” is a big reason for that, as he has averaged 11 points and 15 rebounds game per in March. He has eclipsed the 20-rebound mark three times this month and is on a string of five consecutive double-doubles. No wonder the Jazz traded away Enes Kanter.
5. Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets. We haven’t mentioned Motiejunas all season in this space, and frankly, I’m not sure whether I’m more embarrassed about that, or the fact that I assumed that Jimmy Butler was dead. The big Lithuanian has seen his minutes double this season in the absence of Omer Asik, and he has responded with 12 points and six boards per game, up from 5.5 and 3.6 a season ago. Motiejunas went for 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans last week and is holding the fort with Terrence Jones out and Dwight Howard slowly returning. Felt like he deserved a mention.
NEXT FIVE: Giannis Antetokounmpo, F, Milwaukee; Robert Covington, G, Philadelphia; Draymond Green, F, Golden State; Miles Plumlee, C, Brooklyn; Alexis Ajinca, F-C, New Orleans.
Kels Dayton is a freelance writer whose work has also appeared in SLAM Magazine. You can check out more of his work at SportzEdge.com and on RoundballDaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @KelsDayton.