Here's a riddle we don't want to admit; will Caron Butler get even better than last year? At first glance, it's hard to see why not, especially if he can add the three-point shot to his offensive game. After all, he's only 26, has only been here three years, and looks sleeker than ever before. His prime is still right in front of him, and he has to be better with even more continuity in this offense.
But does anyone else get the worrying feeling that he'll never match his first-half output from last year? I mean, I expected him to take another step forward last season, but his incredible first half exceeded even my expectations. I mean, he averaged 21, 8, and 4 (in 41 minutes, so forget per-minute ratios), with over two steals a game. He shot a career-high in free throws per 40 minutes (6.3), and shot a mind-boggling 48 percent from the field, despite the fact that the majority of his shots were mid-range jumpers. I mean, those are staggering numbers for a second/third option, even in one of the best offenses in basketball. As much as I love Butler, even I have to admit that he might not ever reach that level again.
In his infamous season preview, John Hollinger tangentially mentioned this. He predicts a relatively significant PER drop for Butler this season, justifying it by saying he can't sustain his shooting percentages. As much as I hate to admit it, this point has merit -- Butler had never finished a season with a FG% above 45 prior to last season. You could argue he's improving, but I'd argue the 48 percent is a statistical anomaly that won't happen again.
Hollinger's main point is that, because the field goal percentage from the first half is unsustainable with the type of game Butler plays, his production will drop. What this fails to take into account, however, is that such a drop already happened in the second half of the year. Butler's second-half numbers dropped to 15/6/3, but most importantly, his shooting percentage dropped to 42 percent. 48 percent may be an anomaly, but so is 42 percent -- Butler hasn't shot that poorly since 2004, his final season in Miami. The two halfs ultimately balanced themselves out, and Butler only made marginal, progressive improvements from his 2005/06 campaign, and the per-game numbers were only better because he was playing more minutes.
Throw in the fact that Butler suffered from nagging knee pain in the second half, and I'm still confident he can have better seasons in the future. I doubt he approaches his first-half production again, but if we're talking which is more likely, his season should be closer to that than his second half.
Okay, enough of that. Time to predict his numbers. Put your predictions in the comments section of this post. I'm putting both traditional and advanced numbers out there for reference.
For the traditionalists:
2006/07: 19.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.7 APG, 2.1 SPG, 46.3 FG%, 25 3PT%, 86.3 FT%.
For the statheads:
2006/07: 19.5 P/40, 7.6 R/40, 3.8 A/40, 2.2 S/40, 47.2 eFG%, 53.7 TS%, 18.3 PER, 21.7 UsgR, 10.8 RebR(rebound rate), 11.8 ToR.
Predict as little or as much in the comments as you like.