By Kevin Ferrigan

One of the biggest problems last year’s Chicago Bulls faced– aside from the glaring loss of former league MVP Derrick Rose for a second straight year– is that they simply did not have enough quality outside shooting to space the floor. Quality outside shooters stretch and stress opposing defenses which opens up driving lanes and simply makes scoring points easier for the entire offense.

More obviously, and perhaps more importantly, 3 point shots are worth more than 2 point shots. More than anyone else on the roster, Jimmy Butler’s struggles to make shots from the outside stood out. This was largely a function of Butler’s increased role as a starting guard, as well as the huge strides he had seemingly made as an outside shooter in the 2012-2013 season.

In his rookie season, Butler had only 2 three-pointers on 11 attempts. He was a poor outside shooter, and as a result, he largely avoided taking such shots. In the following year (2012-2013), the man dubbed “Buckets” appeared to get much better at actually getting those buckets. Jimmy managed to hit 38.1% on 1.3 three point attempts. Even more startlingly, after the All-Star Break, Butler made 47.5% of his 61 shots from deep.

Last season, Jimmy Butler only made 28.3% of his 240 three point attempts. He was one of the worst starting level wing shooters from deep in the league. As it turns out, Butler spent much of last season dealing with nagging injuries, particularly to his lower body, suffering turf toe and ankle injuries very early on in the year. As someone who watched nearly every Bulls game last season, it did appear that Butler’s form on his jumper was slightly altered following his lower body injuries early in the season.

So, then, Butler will clearly return to his 38%+ numbers from deep this upcoming season assuming he’s 100 healthy, right? Well, not so fast. For his career, Butler has only attempted a total of 356 three point attempts and he’s hit just 30.9% of them. That 356 attempt figure, as it turns out, is not a significant enough sample to tell us all that much about how good a shooter Butler really is. The 105 attempts he took in 2012-13, when he looked so good, is clearly an even smaller sample, and thus has even more potential to be the result of statistical noise. It turns out that to have a meaningful sense of how good a three point shooter a player truly is, you need to see at least 750 three point attempts from them, according to research done by Darryl Blackport of Nylon Calculus.

As a result, it’s nearly impossible to predict with any meaningful degree of certainty whether Butler’s numbers from deep next season are more likely to look like his 2012-13 season, last season, or his full career sample. His full career sample in which he has shot 30.9%, given its greater number of observations, is probably the best estimate of his skill level available, but its usefulness may be mitigated by the fact that more than two-thirds of his career three point attempts came last season when he was hampered by injuries all year.

Butler’s shooting will be an interesting subplot to watch all year, especially given that Butler is likely to start and share the backcourt with Derrick Rose, another player whose jumper does not really provide spacing out to the three point line and beyond. Bulls fans have to hope that a healthy Butler means those shots begin to drop.

Kevin is a man obsessed with basketball from a state where it’s often too cold to play it much (Maine). That’s okay, he’s better at watching than doing anyway. You can find him on Twitter: @NBACouchside or at his website

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