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Bulls have their best player back in Jimmy Butler

Jimmy Butler plays horse with swimsuit model Erin Heatherton

While Derrick Rose has been vastly improved since the start of January, what he’s been doing over that span isn’t unique.

The Bulls will take it, there’s no questioning that. To have a point guard playing at a high level? Any NBA team will take that. But a lot of NBA teams have that.

What Jimmy Butler does for this team goes into an entirely different category, and his skillset on both ends of the floor puts him into a very small class of elite NBA players.

“Sure, a big physical wing that can defend anybody in this league,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said, when asked about the difference of missing a player of Butler’s caliber. “Obviously, we missed that as much as anything. Jimmy’s absence, when he was out for that month, it was hard to find a way to defend those big, strong wings.

“You saw it [Saturday] night: When Jimmy got in foul trouble, we struggled and we threw a couple different coverages out there to try to make up for that as far as double-teams. That puts you in scramble situations. You don’t have to do that as much when Jimmy is on the floor.’’

Don’t believe the rookie coach?

As Pau Gasol said last week, this team is what the record says they are. With Rose sitting out this season, the record says this team is 6-4. In the 11 games without Butler they were a 3-8 team.

Further evidence was offered up in the 108-100 win over the Houston Rockets. Forget Butler scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in his return after almost a month. Butler held James Harden to six points when he guarded the perennial MVP candidate, while Harden scored 30 points when anyone else wearing a Bulls uniform attempted that feat.

Besides Golden State’s Stephen Curry single-handedly re-inventing the point guard position, the NBA is wing-dominant with the likes of two-way players like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and of course Butler sitting atop of that class.

So of course Hoiberg took advantage of Butler’s return, not only in practice on Friday and the Saturday game, but again in the Sunday practice.

Offensively, Hoiberg said they needed to get back to some isolation sets in which Butler can play to his strength.

That doesn’t mean Hoiberg wants Butler holding the ball until the shot clock has all but dwindled, especially with ball movement and quick decision making such an essential part of his offense. There’s a happy medium somewhere in there, and Hoiberg wants Butler to find it.

“Added a couple new wrinkles and really tried getting some of the things that we were successful with Jimmy at earlier in the year,’’ Hoiberg said of the Sunday practice. “Different isolation-type actions using Jimmy in the ball screen, not only as a handler, but as a screener, and just got back to that.

“We went over some of those actions the last two days. And also clean some of that up [Sunday]. So it’s just a matter of cleaning that up and going out there and doing it in the game situation, as opposed to the practice floor where you’re going through your offense at maybe 80 percent. Not only doing it on the floor, but doing it when you’re fatigued. That’s where we need to get better.’’

Having their best player back in Butler is a great start.