Jimmy Butler gave Chris Johnson a simple rule when he decided to use the Houston-based skills trainer this offseason.
"When we first started working out, he told me, 'If he's not on my team, I'm not working out with him,'" Johnson said by phone Friday.
This rule reached borderline comical levels when former Bulls guard D.J. Augustin signed a free-agent contract with the Pistons. With former Bulls Mike James and Augustin in the same gym, Butler waited until Augustin's workout ended and then did a similar routine.
"You know what that is?" Johnson said. "That's confidence and a true competitor."
Butler's confidence has been on display all preseason but never more so than when he calmly drained a 26-foot 3-pointer Thursday night to beat the buzzer and the Hawks. The shot capped a ridiculous stretch of 20 points in 6 minutes, 7 seconds for the non-prototypical shooting guard, prompting Stacey King to scream Michael Jordan references on the telecast.
"Michael could beat you with his footwork," Johnson said. "With Jimmy's size and frame, he can do what he did (Thursday) night. He scored 14 points in the 15-foot, post-up range."
Obviously, nobody is comparing Butler to the guy who has a statue outside the United Center. But Butler has displayed an impressive post-up and mid-range game throughout preseason, in which he is averaging 18.6 points on 60.4 percent shooting.
Perhaps most impressive is that Butler has averaged 8.6 free-throw attempts through five exhibitions.
"Playing in the mid-post and being able to score off one dribble was my main focus in the offseason," Butler said. "I worked so hard on it. I'm excited because it's paying off. I'm super comfortable there now."
Johnson, who flew home to Houston on Friday morning after working with Butler at nights this week in Chicago, said he coordinated with the Bulls on his three-a-day workouts with Butler over the summer.
"They sent me film of offensive clips they wanted to see from him," Johnson said. "We implemented everything they asked into his daily routine."
Butler said that included post-ups on both sides, turn-and-shoot drills, two dribbles to the middle after catches, everything. He called Johnson "very passionate about what he does."
The workouts continued with coach Tom Thibodeau and assistants Andy Greer, Mike Wilhelm, Adrian Griffin and Ed Pinckney once Butler returned to Chicago.
"Jimmy has grown," Thibodeau said. "Last year, I thought he had a terrific year defensively. It was hard for him to find an offensive rhythm because he was in and out (with injuries) so much. He's in great shape now and is playing terrific.
"He's just a good player. He's going to score in transition or in the post or moving without the ball by cutting and getting to the free-throw line. He's more of a scorer than to characterize him as a straight shooter. He finds different ways to put the ball in the basket."
Thibodeau, who said he talked to Butler frequently about his offseason work while coaching with USA Basketball, consistently has lauded the shape in which Butler reported to camp. That included the 6-foot-7 Butler slimming down a bit from last season's weight of close to 245 pounds.
Everything else about Butler's game remains sky-high.
"My confidence is great because all summer, I worked on my game," Butler said. "I'm really happy with the way I'm going right now."
Layups: The Bulls just watched film and did individual work on a light practice day, and Thibodeau said Mike Dunleavy's sore left knee is "better, but still not there." . . . Thibodeau said that Derrick Rose's first quarter "was better than I thought" after watching film of Thursday's victory. Rose is expected to see his first fourth-quarter action in at least two of the three remaining exhibitions. "As long as he's getting better, that's the big thing," Thibodeau said.