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On the NBA Beat Ep. 2.8: Ashish Mathur: “Jimmy (Butler) Establishing Himself as (Bulls’) New Alpha”

Following dramatic offseason changes, the Chicago Bulls have jumped out to a 10-6 start. At 34, future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade has returned to his hometown. Chicago also brought in former NBA champion Rajon Rondo, among others. Our guest, Ashish Mathur of the Outside Pitch Sports Network, details how Wade and Rondo have added a sense of accountability, what’s behind Jimmy Butler’s routine offensive outbursts and how the Bulls’ lack of depth could ultimately derail their high hopes. Plus, much more is discussed with Mathur, who is cautiously optimistic about 2016-17 given how early it is in the season and the team’s new-look quality. At times, he’s even bullish, but let’s get to the excerpts before any more questionable puns are employed:

1:48-3:04: Mathur begins by pointing out the necessity for the Bulls to trot out a completely different team this season and detailing what key additions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have brought: “The roster turnover was needed in every facet. Derrick [Rose] and Joakim [Noah] did a lot for this organization and city, but with Jimmy [Butler] establishing himself as the new alpha on the team, it was time for those two to go. Gar Forman and John Paxson did a pretty good job. Getting Rondo and Wade here was huge, just for the locker room. It was toxic and full of turmoil last year…not able to handle any adversity…it was time for a change. The biggest thing Wade and Rondo add to the team is accountability…First day of training camp, Rondo and Wade were stopping practices telling guys to knock it off and to stop the chit-chat, [because they’re] here to practice.”

3:57-4:58Next, Mathur gushes about Butler’s transformation from defensive specialist to bona fide all-around superstar: “This guy came into the league as a defensive stopper, averaged 2 points per game his first year. He’s got to be one of the hardest working players, especially in the offseason…He got up at 4 in the morning every day and trained. He’s having fun this year. Last year, there was so much dysfunction…Last year was the first [time] Jimmy dealt with adversity in the NBA…He looks so much different. He’s smiling, loves having Wade on the team, and is putting up MVP-type numbers.”

9:52-10:12: Certainly some of Butler’s success this season can be attributed to mentor and fellow Marquette alumnus Dwyane Wade: “First day in [Wade’s] opening press conference, he said that this is Jimmy Butler’s team and that was huge for everybody…last thing we need is Butler and Wade not being able to play with each other. It’s great for Wade to be the mentor to Jimmy.”

11:02-12:56: Starting point guard Rajon Rondo is also a key part of the Bulls’ offense, but he has needed time to adjust to his new surroundings and has been hampered by a hardly discussed injury: “Rondo’s always been a putrid shooter…he’s not here to score…his leadership and being vocal on the floor have been his biggest attributes for the team. Hoiberg’s a nonchalant coach, sits down the whole game, and he’s pretty quiet. Rondo is vey loud, he’s the coach on the floor, and that’s been huge…the floor spacing though is not at its best when he’s out there…we’re supposed to get Rondo here for his defense and being a pest on that end of the floor. The Bulls’ defense has been middle of the pack, but they’ve been awful when he’s been on the floor…His defense will pick up. He’s quietly dealing with an ankle injury that he’s not talking about. That might be contributing. Just look at his track record. He’s a pretty good defender at his position.”

21:28-22:47: Perhaps the Bulls’ x-factor is the wildly inconsistent Nikola Mirotic, whose potential is sky high, according to Mathur: “Mirotic is one of the biggest teases in the NBA. His rookie year, he led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring in March at around 20 points per game. When he gets into a rhythm, he’s one of the best shooters in the game, but his problems are his shot selection and his confidence. Sometimes he thinks he’s Stephen Curry. He shoots some of the longest 3s I’ve ever seen. They’re just horrible shots. It throws off the rhythm of the offense and ruins his confidence…This is a guy who was MVP in the Spanish league for a reason. He’s not even close to his potential yet…He needs to hit the weight room. He has a very small upper body and teams eat him in the post. He needs to use his size more. He needs to go in the post…If he can improve there, he can be a borderline All-Star for the Bulls.”

26:17-27:23: Our guest expects the Bulls’ upcoming home stand to be very revealing in terms of where this team is headed this season: “These next home games are huge, because a lot of below-.500 teams are coming to the United Center, and the Bulls struggled with below .500 teams last year. Gotta start the home cooking and get some early wins. They play the Cavs next week. That’ll be a good test for them…They’ve definitely turned a corner…The jury is still out. We have to see how they handle adversity, how Wade plays on back-to-backs. And the biggest thing is Butler and Hoiberg. What is their relationship really like? That relationship will really be tested once adversity and losing start to happen, if they do happen.”

Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod

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