Player Evaluation: Caron Butler



Previously:

Stats: Per-game: 39.9 minutes, 20.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 2.2 steals in 58 games.

Per-36: 18.4 points, 6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2 steals.

Percentages: 46.6 FG%, 35.7 3PT%, 90.1 FT%, 50.1 eFG%, 55.8 TS%

Advanced (explanations): 20.7 PER, 21.9 AST%, 9.8 REB%, 12.4 TO%, 24 UsgR, 113 ORtg, 107 DRtg, 7 WSAA (win score above average).

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Pradamaster: If 2006/07 was a breakout year for Caron Butler, then the beginning of the 2007/08 season was a stratospheric rise.  There were several reasons why the Wizards were able to survive Gilbert Arenas' injury in the first half of the season, but none were greater than Butler's emergence.  He was shooting at a ridiculous clip, having extended his range out to the three-point line, and was still doing all the other things that have contributed to his Tuff Juice moniker. 

Then, he injured his hip and missed several games.  When he came back, he wasn't anywhere near the same player he was in the first three months of the season, though to his credit he was still an extremely valuable player that showed tremendous growth from the end of his 2006/07 season.  His postseason performance was very uneven, with superb performances in Games 3 and 5 (both Wizards wins) and poor performances in the other four contests.  For the second straight year, Butler started strong and faded down the stretch. 

Still, we shouldn't discount the ways in which Caron Butler improved this season.  On the court, his offensive game became much more well-rounded, particularly in the half court.  Off the court, Butler began to emerge as a vocal leader, which is key because he's the one guy on the team who can really back up strong words with his actions.  Both will serve the team well as Arenas gets reintegrated with the team.

The narrative we've been using to describe Butler's offensive improvement mostly centers around his improved shooting, but that doesn't even begin to tell the whole story.  In fact, while there's no doubt Butler significantly improved his shooting range, the only time that it made a direct difference was during early parts of the season.  Through the first month of the season, Butler was shooting 54 percent from three-point range while sporting a 63% true shooting percentage.  He never shot better than 35 percent from three-point range in subsequent months.  Clearly, the threat of Butler shooting threes helped his offensive game, but his percentages were fairly pedestrian in every other month.

In reality, it was the improvement of Butler's passing skills that made a major difference.  His assist percentage rose to 21.9 percent this year, easily surpassing his 15.9 percent mark of 2006/07.  He also cut his turnover rate down from 13.9 percent in 06/07 to 12.4 percent last year.  His improvement was reflected in more than assists and turnovers, though.  For the first time in his career, Butler was running high pick and rolls, the default play designed for your best scorer to create an opportunity for himself or somebody else.  He also showed a ton of patience when double-teams arrived, kicking the ball to an open shooter instead of forcing something.  These skills are key if the Wizards are to accomplish their goal (or what should be their goal) of Arenas using fewer possessions.  Butler was mostly a finisher in the past, but his development as an initiator should mean fewer possessions that end with Arenas shooting a contested 18-footer. 

As good as Butler was this season, though, he really showed that he simply isn't quite good enough to be the number one option on a great team.  Oh sure, he can be for a game, like Game 5 against Cleveland or even a month, like he was in November, but there are just too many flaws that prevent him from doing it consistently.  For one, he just doesn't get to the free throw line enough.  He attempted just 4.1 free throws/36 minutes this year, and his free throws made per shot attempt placed him behind or on the same level renown slashers like Raymond Felton, Stephen Jackson, Marvin Williams and Ben Gordon.  This doesn't really jive with the Tuff Juice persona, but Butler is essentially a jump-shooter offensively.  That inability to get into the lane makes it much easier for teams to completely take him out of the game, as Cleveland did in Game 6. 

For another, his durability is concerning.  For the second straight season, Butler set a career high in minutes per game, and for the second straight season, a nagging injury kept him out of several games and limited him once he returned.  Durability can be a funny thing -- Marcus Camby, once the poster boy for fragility, has only missed 15 games in the last two years -- but it's concerning to see Butler break down again with an increased workload.  If there's one guy who needs to see his minutes cut as a precautionary measure, it's Butler, because he's played in at least 68 games every year before the last two, when his minutes jumped to over 39 a game.  You can't really have that from your number one scoring option over the long haul.

Essentially, he's in a perfect position to be a second option alongside Arenas, and I wouldn't have it any other way.  His persona and his game are complete opposites of Arenas', which is how it should be.  He should be a jump-shooter if Arenas is the one driving to the basket.  He should be the guy to lead by example if Arenas is going to continue to be the loony one, though I wish Butler would use words more often to back up his actions.  He should be a secondary offensive initiator that can allow Arenas to save his energy for defense. 

I don't want Butler to be Arenas, and I don't really want Arenas to be Butler.  In a pinch, we saw last year that Butler has the capability to at least come close to doing the things Arenas does well, but we also saw that Butler can't duplicate Arenas over the long run.  If both players just go back to being themselves, I can't think of too many duos that I'd rather have as franchise cornerstones.

JakeTheSnake: When it comes to talking about Caron Butler this season, the first thing that comes to mind is a stat that was used a lot by reporters, but I think still bears mentioning.  Only four players averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists last season: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter and Caron Butler.  Say what you want about VC, but that's some pretty elite company that Caron finds himself in, and considering that he made that group with a lower usage rate than the other three, it makes the accomplishment that much more impressive.  Clearly, Tuff Juice has arrived as a star in this league.

It's funny, because last year I thought Caron had reached his peak level as a borderline All-Star/excellent second banana type player, but he took it to another level this year, thanks in part to his increased outside shooting.  In their season preview, ESPN said that Caron was one of the most effective forwards in the league from 18 feet in.  Now you can safely say that Caron is one of the most effective forwards in the league from just about anywhere.  The first month of the season, Caron shot a ridiculous 54.3% from beyond the arc while everyone was still using last year's scouting report on him.  As the year progressed and teams took notice of his increased range, his percentages went down, but even still they were better than his shooting percentages in previous years.

The one downside to Caron's increased range is that it means he's not taking it to the rack as much.  His 4.1 FTA's per 36 were the second lowest of his career.  Part of that is the result of not having Gilbert around to create more driving lanes, but we also have to remember that Caron has to preserve his body as well.  To expect him to increase his trips to the charity stripe and expect him to stay injury free is a fleeting hope at best.  Sure, it might not seem like a very Tough Juice thing to do, but if we don't want him to turn into a walking injury by age 33, we have to get used to him relying on his mid-range game and his outside shot a little more.

With that said, Caron's still a few years away from the Michael-Jordan-all-I-shoot-is-fadeaways stage, so there will still be plenty of Caronimo! moments to enjoy this upcoming season.  I would say that we should expect a lot of what we saw last season again, but if Caron showed me anything last season, it's that he doesn't have a ceiling.

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering:  Caron without headband > Caron with headband.

Truthaboutit: People will remember '07-08 as the year when Caron Butler first stepped forward and showed that he could put a team on his back and lead to victory.

Sure he was an All-Star in the previous season, but what does that mean? Don't get me wrong, I am far from discrediting the accolade. But in that instance, the door was simply open to any naysayers to opine that Butler's merits were the result of playing alongside budding superstar, Gilbert Arenas. By the way, I am not one of these naysayers, Caron earned every bit of his '06-07 All-Star selection himself.

At the same time, things come easier when opposing defenses place a brunt of their focus on a teammate. How would Caron respond with the Agent Zero comfort blanket pulled out from under him?

Fortunately, and unfortunately, Wizards fans were granted the opportunity to see just what kind of special player they had in Butler with Arenas only appearing in eight inconsistent games in the '07-08 season's early going.

Before the All-Star break, Butler averaged 21.4 points, 6.8 boards, 4.5 assists, 2.4 steals on 47.6% from the field and 91.3% from the free-throw line. His season totals were all career highs save for rebounds. Also add Butler to the list of those helped by shooting coach Dave Hopla as his 66 made threes on the season were a 61% increase over his previous career high and his 90.1 FT% was 6th in the NBA.

Butler's 20.95 PER was good enough for 22nd in the league, according to KnickerBlogger.Net, and 82games.com tells us that Butler was one of the top 15 clutch players in the league...."clutch" meaning average points scored per 48 minutes of clutch time which is under 5 minutes left in the 4th quarter or overtime of a game where neither team holds a lead greater than five points. He was also 8th in the league in Inside FG%......if Tuff Juice got into the paint, you could pretty much count the bucket.

One would almost think that Caron Butler is perfect....well, he's not. If there's one beef I had with Butler is that he settled for mid-range shots too much. Dude has a decent sized body, and often seemed to be matched up against smaller players. I'd like to see Butler increase his mid-range post game workload, and draw more fouls leading to trips to the FT line. As much as he is counted on to score, Butler needs to boost that 9% foul draw percentage.

Overall, I'm ecstatic that Caron Butler came into his own. I sleep better at night knowing that he, along with Jamison, are the true heart and soul of the team, and that Butler is locked up for a reasonable three more years at $30 million. But those who thought that Ernie Grunfeld should have gotten rid of Gilbert Arenas and built around Caron Butler were severely kidding themselves.

In the long run, teams with championship hopes need scorers with killer instinct such as Arenas. Not saying that Gilbert is a sure thing, but he was the best option under the given circumstances. I'm also not saying that Caron doesn't have killer instinct, but he can't do it alone. A team with Caron as the best scorer will not go far when it counts.

Just take a look at Butler's scoring stats versus Poor (24.3), Average (18.0), and Good (17.4) teams. It's nice that he's 9th in the league in scoring against Poor teams, but we need the effort to be sustained versus the best of the best. [For the record, Kobe scored 27.5 against Poor, 27.4 against Average, and 30.0 against Good; Paul Pierce scored 17.8 against Poor, 19.9 against Average, and 22.0 against Good.]

Yes, Caron was a big reason as to why the Wizards made the playoffs without Arenas. However, it's my opinion that Caron is more of a James Worthy type player who, while more than integral to a championship run, is not going to lead his team to a ring. That's not to say that Caron can't be "the" team leader.....I'd rather him play that role more than anyone else. Plus, everyone could use a shot of Tuff Juice before games.

Addendum:

I'd be remiss if I did not mention Caron Butler's injury....and I can't believe I neglected to do so when it was on my mind. He missed the five games before the All-Star break, and came back about a month later when most thought that his left hip labral tear would keep him out for the season.

Butler's post injury numbers certainly dropped off across the board.....well, his assists went up. We could all tell that the injury affected him to some degree, how much, we'll never know. Why? Because Caron Butler never said a word about it. He's the type of person, as we've come to find out, who would never even consider playing the injury card. And it's because of this
, more than anything else he's done on the court, that I've gained the utmost respect for Butler.

Like I've said, a team can't win a championship without a scorer akin to Gilbert Arenas, but at the same time, a team certainly won't get a banner without someone like Caron Butler.

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