PORTLAND, Ore. — Jimmy Butler isn’t about empty promises. He saw too many of those with the old core of Bulls players.
So after a dismal performance in which he scored only 16 points and committed six turnovers in a loss Nov. 5 to the Pacers, Butler pointed the finger at himself and vowed to do better.
In the five games since calling himself out, including the 113-88 dismantling of the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, Butler has put the Bulls on his back, averaging 28.6 points, 6.6 assists and 6.6 rebounds. The Bulls have gone 4-1 in those games.
‘‘When you’re with somebody up close, you get to see the work they put in,’’ guard Dwyane Wade said about being Butler’s teammate now, not the opposition. ‘‘I see the work he puts in in the weight room. I see the work he puts in on the court. I see the work he puts in on film. You don’t know that from afar.’’
All Wade, who played his first 13 seasons with the Heat, really knew about Butler was that they were from the same college (Marquette) and that he had two-way talent. But now he has seen a different side of Butler, one that he said puts him on a path to greatness.
‘‘You know he’s a talented player,’’ Wade said. ‘‘You know he plays hard. But you don’t see the work he puts in. I see all of it. I know this guy wants to be great. That’s half the battle. Some people are OK with being average; he’s not. He wants to be great.
‘‘Me, someone who came from a similar background where I was under-recruited and not highly touted early, I respect that. He’s on the right path. I told him, ‘What you’ve done since the Pacer loss, that’s the next step to greatness.’ It’s hard to do it every night, but the great players do.’’
That’s why Butler is being mentioned as an early-season MVP candidate. He was averaging 24.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and two steals and usually draws the toughest defensive assignments each game.
Now he has to sustain it. Butler has gone on runs before, seemingly carrying the Bulls in spurts, only to disappear for a few games. He acknowledged that Tuesday and said he’s working to change it.
‘‘Continue to stay in the gym,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Don’t get lost and bored with the process. Coming in here early, working out, coming in at night, working out.
‘‘Confidence comes from your work, so as long as you’re seeing the ball go in the basket, constantly working on your game and your body is right, we’ll go out there and perform every night.’’
What’s even better news for the Bulls is that Butler is chasing greatness with the idea of winning a championship at the end. He’s not chasing it for individual accolades.
That became obvious when he went on the recruiting trail for any major star who would listen this past summer, willing to play second fiddle if it meant him — and the Bulls — winning a ring.
“Are we ahead of where I thought?’’ Butler said after the latest win. “Not really. I don’t think we’re doing anything out of the ordinary. Everyone is playing to their strengths, covering up their weaknesses. We’re paying attention in film. Everyone is working on their game. As long as you do that you’re going to be put in the right position to succeed.’’