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Caron Butler: Esquire

There's been lots of love for Caron Butler recently after his two best games of the season against Denver and Miami.  He scored a season high 30 points against Miami on Friday and nearly had his first career triple double.  On the season, he's averaging 18.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game, all career highs.

Ivan Carter discusses how a change in diet has been the key.

Through the team's various ups and downs so far this season, Butler has been the team's most consistent performer. He's the only Wizard who has scored in double figures in every game and he already has nine games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds after posting nine such games all of last season.

The improvement in every facet of his game is a product of the work Butler put in this summer when he changed his diet, trimmed his body fat and worked himself into what he calls the best shape of his life.

"I'm a listener and I'm well aware that in order to have success in this league, one, you have to listen to the coach and two, you have to put in the time and effort," Butler said. "I've put in my time studying the game, I put in my time after practice and do the extra things and it's finally starting to pay off."

With the Lakers game coming up tonight, John Mitchell reminds everyone of Ernie Grunfeld's heist in the 2005 offseason.

Butler has been instrumental in getting the Wizards (11-11) back to .500 less than a month after sitting five games under the mark. The team heads west tonight to face the Los Angeles Lakers, a team Butler spent one season with after being traded -- along with Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a first-round draft pick -- for Shaquille O'Neal in the summer of 2004.
    A year later, the Wizards fleeced the Lakers, shipping them former No. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown for Butler and guard Chucky Atkins. Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld was so convinced Butler was the perfect fit at small forward he didn't hesitate to reward Butler with a five-year, $46 million contract at the beginning of last season.

There's no doubt that Butler has eclipsed Antawn Jamison as the Wizards' second most productive player.  I predicted a breakout year for Butler in my community projection, but it so far has come in areas I didn't expect.  I expected Butler's scoring to significantly increase and the rest of his stats to stay constant, but it's been exactly the opposite so far.  Butler's scoring has gone up slightly (17.6 to 18.7), but his rebounding has significantly increased (6.3 to 8.4) and his assists have also gone up (2.5 to 3.2).  In addition, Butler's PER is currently sitting at 19.14 and rising.  

Butler's been a notorious slow starter, but he's finally starting to get a groove.  With Butler, it's usually a matter of getting him shots.  As long as he's getting somewhere close to 20 shots a game, he'll be effective.  He struggled with his shot earlier in the year, but that mid-range line drive is starting to fall like it usually does.

There is one significant mitigating factor to Butler's breakout season.  He has a reputation of being a solid defender, but he's actually been a significantly worse defender than ever before.  I read on Forum Blue and Gold and on 82 Games that the Wizards as a team have allowed opposing small forwards to post an obscene 19.7 PER against them.  Some of that is probably Jarvis Hayes, but not a significant amount.  Granted, the Wizards have faced LeBron twice, Carmelo once, Paul Pierce once, and a host of other solid small forwards such as Josh Howard, Luol Deng, and Tayshaun Prince, but the trend is still quite disturbing.  For all of Butler's offensive growth, he's regressed on the defensive end.  He tends to gamble too much, and like Arenas, he struggles fighting through screens and defending his man off the ball.  Ironically, Butler is probably much worse than Arenas in this regard, as opposing point guards' PER is an average 15.1.  

So, as much as we all should be excited over Tough Juice this season, and as much as we want to say how much of a heist the 2005 trade for Kwame was, we still need to realize that Butler still has a lot to work on at the defensive end of the court.  

Man up, Caron!

As a sidenote, be sure to check out this diary asking where Butler ranks among other comporable small forwards.