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Player Evaluation: Caron Butler

Pradamaster: The real question for Caron Butler coming into this season was not whether he would break out, but how.  After being misused at the beginning of the 2005/06 season, Butler found his stride and had a standout postseason despite playing with a broken thumb.  He lost 15 pounds in the offseason, and came back with a guaranteed starting job and a firm place in the team's hierarchy.  He was going to be better.

And there's no doubt Butler was much better this the first half.  As great as Gilbert Arenas was, Butler was probably the key to the team's early surge to the top of the conference.  He was too quick for bigger defenders, too strong for smaller defenders, and too tenacious for those in between.  Teams basically had to pick their poison.  If they focused too much on Arenas, Butler took them off the dribble and broke them down the same way.  He was consistently getting to the free throw line, finishing the first half with a 56% true shooting percentage, an outstanding mark for a guard.  He clearly deserved to be on the all-star team, and anyone who disagreed needed to take a closer look.

But it really fell apart for Butler in the second half.  He suffered through a nagging knee injury, sure, but it seemed the damage was more psychological than physical.  Perhaps the memory of him dominating Cleveland with a broken thumb made me wonder why he wasn't effective even with the injured knee.  Who knows.  However serious it was, it clearly affected his play.  He started falling in love with that mid-range jumper, and lost the aggression that made him the great player he was in the first half.

Consider this.  Butler shot nearly six free throws a game in the first half.  In the second half, that number was down to 4.5 per game, right around his 2005/06 level.  And the more he was shooting mid-range jumpers, the less he was throwing his body around inside.  His rebounding numbers dropped to 6.2 a game, which effectively negated his most unique strength.  This continued after his knee healed until he was shut down for the year with the broken hand.  

I'm confident Butler will bounce back strong.  He lost a lot of weight before the season, and I think it hurt his durability as much as it helped his explosiveness.  He was arguably the team's best defensive player in 2005/06, but he slipped considerably on that end last season.  Guys like Tayshaun Prince and Gerald Wallace simply went right through him, and when Butler was guarding a quicker guy, he tended to reach too much.  Those are the signs of a guy who's expending more energy than he should be on the offensive end.  With an additional year to learn how to use his body, however, I'm confident this won't be an issue.

I think Butler will eventually settle into a middle ground somewhere between his first half and second half numbers.  That'll probably mean 19-20 points per game, 7-8 rebounds, 3-4 assists, and, hopefully, better defense.  He's the quintessential second banana, and seeing as how he's signed for four more years, he should be providing a stable presence in the lineup for a long time.  Besides, he needs to show us how to live.

JakeTheSnake: Caron Butler had a spectacular year.  Period.

Some players just for some reason make their teams better whenever they're on the court and Tough Juice would certainly fall under that category.  In a breakout year where he really could've gone on a one-man vendetta to increase his worth he went the other direction and used it as an opportunity to make the team better (and posterize some people here and there).  Everything about his game improved this season: shot selection, rebounding, assists, scoring, and steals.  He still gets out-muscled from time to time guarding bigger players but one thing is for sure, he will never be out-toughed.  He'll only get better and grow in his role as one of the fan favorites (albeit not a BF Top 20, but I digress).  I can't wait to see as the Tuff Juice gets harder and harder for other teams to swallow.