Hard work continues to pay off for Butler

This time everyone agrees: Jimmy Butler is one of the best.

Butler Thursday in the NBA announcement on TNT was selected to be a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team in the Feb. 19 game in New Orleans.

It is Butler’s third consecutive All Star game appearance, but his first as a starter. And perhaps more significantly being a starter because this was the first year the NBA combined media and player voting with fan voting for the All-Star starters. The coaches select the seven All-Star reserves, which Butler was part of the previous two NBA seasons.

“I just worked hard putting in the time and became a decent player. I would say right now when I was starting in 2011, starting my NBA career, I wasn’t very good, I‘ll tell you that. But now to be named a starting All-Star shows the work that I put in.”

Butler’s story is among the more remarkable in sports, the last pick in the first round of the 2011 draft, a junior college transfer who never was his team’s leading scorer at Marquette, rarely playing as a Bulls rookie and not even a rotation regular until midway through his second season, and then because of injury. Even in his second Bulls season, Butler played fewer than 10 minutes per game several times in the first month and didn’t become a starter until March. The most he averaged until his fourth NBA season was 13.1 points per game. Now he is considered one of the elite two-way players in the NBA and top 10 (by starting the midseason classic) by the combination of fans, players and media.

The Eastern Conference team will be Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan as guards and LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Butler frontcourt.

The Western Conference starters will be Stephen Curry and James Harden guards, and Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis frontcourt.

In the East, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas lost out on a tiebreaker at guard with fan popularity breaking the tie. In the West, the same procedure knocked out Russell Westbrook from the starting guard roster.

Butler didn’t play in the All-Star game last season because he was injured, though he attended. The previous season he played a game low nine minutes with various injury issues and the need for recuperation. He scored six points.

In the final fan voting, which made up half the results, Butler was fifth among Eastern Conference forwards. There are three forwards, or frontcourt players, and two guards for the starters. Butler was behind James, Antetokounmpo, Kevin Love and Joel Embiid. But Butler has been among the top scorers in the NBA this season, having a career year averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He’s had a 52-point game and multiple game winning shots. He is tied for 10th in the league in scoring with Leonard and fourth in free throw attempts per game. He’s fifth among non guards in assists.

The Bulls' 6-7 forward in his sixth NBA season is the first Bull since Pau Gasol in 2015 and Derrick Rose in 2011 and 2012 to be named an All-Star starter. Dwyane Wade didn’t get the starting nod this time, but has been a starter many times with the Miami Heat. If it had only been fan voting again, Wade would have been voted a starter. The player and media votes had Butler third and with the weighted system it was enough to push him into the third starting spot.

Wade was second in fan voting to Irving in the East. In the player voting, Butler was third behind James and Antetokounmpo among frontcourt. Paul George was fourth and Kristaps Porzingis fifth. Irving and Thomas led the player guard votes. Among the media, Thomas was first among guards and DeRozan second. Irving was third, Kyle Lowry fourth and John Wall fifth. Among frontcourt, it was James, Antetokounmpo, Butler, Love and Embiid.

Butler offered his support for Wade to be named a reserve. A vote of the conference coaches will determine the seven reserves.

But it’s a much deeper pool of talent in the Eastern Conference this season, which will make it uncertain if Wade will get his 13th selection. Thomas, Irving and Love seem likely to be added given the strength of their teams along with the Raptors’ Lowry as the coaches tend to favor players on the more successful teams. There also will be sentiment for the Pacers’ George, John Wall, Kemba Walker, Embiid, and perhaps Carmelo Anthony, Jabari Parker, Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap, Hassan Whiteside and Bradley Beal. Zaza Pachulia, who was high in the fan voting believed from foreign sources, fell well behind with player and media votes.

“Obviously, it’s a huge accomplishment and an honor being named a starter,” said Butler. “But there will be a lot of good players there, (mine) another name thrown in with decent basketball players.

“It’s fun,” the 27-year-old Butler said about attending. “You get to know the other really good players in the league and you get to learn a little about them and the experience you get to be a part of whether it is the Jordan party or taking your guys with you everywhere. That’s the fun part for me, my trainers, my brothers, everybody that is behind the scenes that is helping me with everything gets to experience it, too.

“You know (who those top players were) starting back in the day and what they did for the game,” said Butler. “Back then I really didn’t pay too much attention to it. For one, I think I loved football way more than I loved basketball at that point. But like I always say and no matter what you all say I mean this, I never thought this would be in the cards for me, let alone being an NBA player, All-Star starter, All-Star game, Chicago Bulls player, whatever. It wasn’t in the picture for me until like my senior year of college. That was way far removed whenever Michael Jordan and all of those guys were being named All-Star starters.”

Jordan was an All-Star starter for the Bulls 11 times, the most among all Bulls. He also started twice as a member of the Washington Wizards. Scottie Pippen was voted a starter by the fans, who did the starters’ voting since 1975, six times. Before 1975, a vote of writers and broadcasters was used to select the starters.

Here are the other Bulls who gave started All-Star games. The Bulls were in the Western Conference until the 1980-81 season.

  • 1967: Guy Rodgers
  • 1968: Bob Boozer
  • 1969: Jerry Sloan
  • 1972: Bob Love
  • 1974: Chet Walker
  • 1977: Norm Van Lier
  • 1981: Artis Gilmore and Reggie Theus
  • 1982 Artis Gilmore
  • 1985: Michael Jordan
  • 1987: Michael Jordan
  • 1988: Michael Jordan
  • 1989: Michael Jordan
  • 1990: Michael Jordan
  • 1991: Michael Jordan
  • 1992: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
  • 1993: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
  • 1994: Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong
  • 1995: Scottie Pippen
  • 1996: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
  • 1997: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen
  • 1998: Michael Jordan
  • 2011: Derrick Rose
  • 2012: Derrick Rose
  • 2015: Pau Gasol