Caron Butler and the usage question

Regulars here know there are few NBA writers I admire more than Yahoo's Kelly Dwyer.  For someone writing as frequently as he does, his ability to get straight to the point with his analysis is a trait I really admire.  In today's wrap-up of last night's NBA action, he perfectly encapsulated the Caron Butler experience.

Few other NBA players (of any skill level) appear to be working harder while leading by example like Wizard Caron Butler.

This isn't a man relishing the scoring and ball-dominating opportunities afforded by the absence of Washington's best player, rather, Butler truly sees what is needed from his team from quarter to quarter (a rebound to start the break, an isolation jumper nailed, a pass to a baseline cutter), and follows through to the best of his ability. In his prime and with a young team learning from his every step, it's been a joy to watch.

Like Dwyer, I'm amazed by how much Butler is succeeding even while playing within the framework of the offense.  It's incredible to think about how many different ways Butler came up with big plays in the second half of yesterday's game.  Most will remember the big baseline jam on Matt Carroll late in the third quarter, but there were plenty of others.  Consider the baseline three-pointer he hit a few possessions before the dunk, when the Bobcats had a five-point lead and were threatening to run away with the game.  The ball swung around the perimeter, so Butler went from the paint to the corner to get that open look and knock it down.  Then, after the dunk, Butler grabbed Jeff McInnis' miss, and eventually made a nice little handoff that freed the red-hot Roger Mason for an open three to push the lead to four.  In the fourth quarter, Butler had two big steals -- one on Nazr Mohammed, and one helping out on Raymond Felton -- two big buckets when Charlotte cut the lead to five, and a block on Gerald Wallace in the final two minutes to effectively put the game away.  All that happened with him struggling on a bad ankle, which was evident when he was trying to elevate inside.

But what's so interesting about the Caron Butler experience is that, when I'm watching, I feel like I want him to shoot more and make more aggressive moves to the basket, even if it means freelancing a bit in the Princeton offense.  My guess is this feeling is not unique, and that several others who watch this team daily think the same way.  

Consider the following.  Butler currently ranks just 46th in the league in usage rate, which measures the percentage of possessions that end in that player attempting a shot (editor's note: it also covers possessions that end in a foul or a turnover).  Of those players behind him in that category, only Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett have higher PERs, which is to be expected, since usage rates tend to favor guards who are controlling the ball more frequently.  Butler's also 42nd in the league in true shooting percentage, and among wing players ahead of him in true shooting percentage, only Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Richard Jefferson, Kevin Martin, Josh Howard, Chauncey Billups, and Manu Ginobili have higher usage rates.  There is an intense debate in the stathead community over how to weigh usage rate against efficiency (e.g. is shooting 20 times and hitting 10 the same as shooting 10 times and hitting 5), but what's important about those numbers is that Butler is scoring efficiently without shooting too often, which falls in line with Dwyer's nice synopsis.

So the question is, what would happen if Butler did start becoming more assertive than he already is?  Certainly, I think it's fair to say his production would rise.  One of my biggest wishes is that Butler shoots more free throws, as he's only making 0.23 free throws per shot attempt this year.  One of Gilbert Arenas' greatest strengths offensively was his ability to get to the free throw line, which explains why, despite having a mediocre 48.4 effective field goal percentage last year, his true shooting percentage last year was only .7 percentage points behind Butler's this year. Since Arenas went out, the Wizards' offense has had some dry spells, and when that happens, I often pray in vain for Butler to somehow find his way to the line, because that's a consistent source of points.  It would also make him tougher to guard, because opponents would play him for the drive and give him more space to shoot that beautiful step-back jumper.

But to do that, Butler would have to freelance more in the Princeton, and that goes against what makes him so effective and so much fun to watch in the first place.  It's the classic dilemma with Butler, and it's one that probably has no solution.  

The real irony, therefore, is that I long for Gilbert Arenas to play more like Caron Butler, and I also long for Caron Butler to play more like Gilbert Arenas.  That bodes well for when Gilbert comes back, because based on the way Caron's game has developed this year, the two aren't going to step on each other's feet.

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