Who Took Caron Butler's Touches?

Entering this year, we knew that usage and touches could become an issue with Gilbert Arenas's return and the installation of Flip Saunders' offense.  Caron Butler's numbers have suffered some this year, and it has been suggested that the cause is at least in part that Gilbert is stealing Caron's opportunities.

Just compared to 08-09, of course Gilbert's return has had an impact on how much Caron gets the ball and uses possessions.  On the other hand, Caron's performance has declined somewhat from last year's level, but has declined much further from his 05-06 and 06-07 levels, when he was playing alongside Gilbert.  Given the choice, that 05-07 Caron is the one the team wants, not the guy who was trying to carry a bad team last year. 

Taking this longer view, and comparing the numbers, it does not appear that Caron's lost touches are the result of a Gilbert-Caron imbalance, and probably not (at least not entirely) an issue of Flip's offense.  Rather, it seems that the cause is a significant shift in the type of bench players on the team.  So, Caron, don't blame Gilbert (for this particular issue), blame Earl and Randy (and maybe Ernie).  The numbers, after the jump.

Caron's usage rate is lower than any he has posted in his years in a Wizards' uniform.  It has fallen from a career high of 25.9% last season to 21.6% entering last night's game.  That's a significant drop and is enough to indicate that his role in the offense has changed.  This is nothing different than what we would expect, going from being one of the top-2 players on a team without a strong point guard playing a not-terribly-guard-oriented offense to playing in Flip's reputedly pg-initiated offense with Gilbert.  But, we should ask two questions.  First, has his production dropped along with his usage?  Second, is it possible to tell who has picked up the use of Caron's lost possessions?

Production

Caron's production has fallen compared to last year, mostly due to a huge drop in his assists and a smaller, but noticeable drop in his shooting percentages.  His PER has dropped from 18.8 to 14.1, with his WS/3000 minutes falling from 5.22 to 4.0, all despite a slight uptick in rebounding and a drop in turnovers.  His shots have fallen some, with his FG attempts dropping by two per game and his FT attempts dropping by one per game, but, for whatever reason, he's taken more of the usage drop out of his passing, with a 2.4/gm drop in assists and a .5/gm drop in turnovers.

But, last year should be taken more within the full perspective of Caron's career.  Last year was already his least productive season since his second year in the league (when his role was shaken up by the entrance of a rookie Dwayne Wade).  There seems no reason to think that Caron needs more than 23% or 24% to be productive.  That was his usage during his 05-06 and 06-07 seasons playing alongside Gilbert, when he managed a cumulative 6.7 WS/3000 minutes.  That is 1.5 WS above last year's level.  Last year was itself a bigger drop from his Gilbert years than this year is compared to last year.  He should be able to handle a loss of touches from last year's level while still being a valuable contributor for this team.  But, perhaps he can't manage that with his usage all the way down to 21.6%.

Who is Using the Ball?

Here are Caron's usage rates over the last five years, with the first two being with-Gilbert seasons and the last this year:  23.2, 23.1, 24.0, 25.9, 21.6.  Obviously he used more possessions with Gilbert out than with Gilbert.  On the other hand, his current usage is still a significant drop from his last two with-Gilbert seasons.

Is Gilbert using more possessions with Flip?  No, at least not yet.  He is currently at 31.4%.  His last two full previous seasons?  31.4% and 30.5%. And we are talking about shares of the same-sized pie, because the team is playing at the same pace it did in those years.

How about Jamison and Haywood?  Have they taken Caron's possessions?  No, not really.  In 06-07 they were at 22.8% and 13.6% respectively, while they are now at 23.5% and 13.0%.  Jamison's uptick in usage is mostly matched by Haywood's drop.  (Haywood just can't win.  At least his minutes are up.)

Who does that leave?  Let's compare the shooting guards and big-minute reserves from 06-07 versus this year.

06-07 09-10
D. Stevenson 17.6% A. Blatche 20.0%
A. Daniels 14.2% R. Foye 20.4%
J. Hayes 17.3% E. Boykins 21.1%
E. Thomas 14.4% N. Young 20.2%
R. Mason 18.3% D. Stevenson 9.9%
D. Songaila 18.3%

 

Wow.  So, it isn't Arenas that's stealing Caron's possessions.  It is the bench!  You can make an argument for giving some of Caron's possessions to Blatche or Young, perhaps, but to Foye and Boykins?  No way.  (Regardless of how much you think Deshawn has left in the tank, he needs to be given some props for how he has worked to fit into this team and situation.)

Is this fixable?  Probably not easily, unfortunately.  Boykins and Foye are both major ballhandlers and so have a distinct advantage in keeping their possessions.  They have both always been 20%+ players.  Also, they are the available backup PGs, so it would be hard to keep them both off the floor and away from Caron.  

Miller's return will probably cost Foye some minutes, but I'm not sure that helps the situation.  Miller's usage has been low this season and last, but through his career until last year he was around 20% or higher.  Miller's low usage last year was, by reports from Minny, apparently to prove a point.  His low usage this year was probably the result of an earnest effort to blend in.  But, I'm not so sure a case can be made that the team will be more successful with Miller sacrificing to keep Caron's usage up.

Caron's best situation would probably be to play at least part-time with a lineup that does not include a ball-dominant PG, and that allows him to initiate the offense some during those times.  Unfortunately, this team could have a hard time giving that to him.

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