The Thunder are set to add Caron Butler to the roster once he clears waivers late Saturday afternoon.
He’s a 6-foot-7 small forward that’s averaged 15.3 points per game over his 11-year NBA career. But the questions are: How much does he help the Thunder? How does he play? What can he do? Is this good?
Here’s one obvious reason to be happy about it, though: The Heat wanted him, and the Thunder got him instead.
Butler’s quick bio: He was drafted by the Heat 10th overall in 2002. He played two years there, and was part of the Shaq trade, sending him to the Lakers for a season. Then he moved to the Wizards for four and a half seasons, enjoying probably his best basketball, averaging 20.8 points a game in 67 games in 2008-09. He was traded at the deadline to the Mavs, and playing there for two seasons. He was part of the championship team in 2011 in Dallas, though he tore a patella tendon in his right knee midseason and wasn’t part of their run. He signed the next offseason for three years with the Clippers and played two there, before being traded last offseason to Phoenix in a three-team deal sending J.J. Redick to LA and Eric Bledsoe to the Suns. He was then dealt again, going to the Bucks right before the season.
But who cares about that. Can he still play? And how does he fit?
Butler is 33, and definitely on the way out in his NBA career. He’s averaged double-figure scoring every season since 2003-04, but hasn’t been at 15 a game or better since his knee injury in 2011. But he’s shown flashes. Like the video above, from Nov. 22 against the Sixers this season where he dropped 38.
(Though the video uploader attaches this message: “Caron Butler sucks. Do not be fooled by this expertly compiled highlight package. I’ve watched every Bucks game. He has sucked in all of them. Of all the many facets of basketball in which he displays inadequate competency, shot selection is the most glaring. He is a chucker, but not the good kind (if there is such a thing). Taking contested mid-range jumpers seems to be his favorite pastime.” So… maybe not.)
Butler’s a good wing scorer and a decent perimeter shooter. Defensively, he’s average to below average, though he is a bigger body and could be used against both shooting guards and scoring forwards. And he provides the Thunder a little more versatility, allowing Scott Brooks to go small with Durant at power forward and Butler at small forward. That’s been a preferred closing lineup, Durant at the 4, but now instead of either Thabo Sefolosha or Derek Fisher in those situations, Brooks can use the more offensive minded Butler.
Two current players are probably going to be affected by this, seeing as Brooks is assuredly going to favor the veteran and play Butler wayyyy too much — Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones. For the most part, Jones can probably kiss what little foothold he had in the rotation goodbye. Lamb, who’s seen his minutes dwindle to 16 a game since Westbrook returned, could see even less time. Because who am I kidding — Derek Fisher ain’t playing less.
Butler’s not a great 3-point shooter (34.1 percent for his career, 36.1 percent this season), but he is capable of knocking them down. On the season, 44.9 percent of his points are 2-pointers, with 33.2 percent from midrange, and 42.5 percent of his points have come from 3. He scores mostly off assisted buckets (70.1 percent assisted; 29.9 percent unassisted). So he’s going to need to be set up.
Here’s his 2013-14 season shotchart:
Nothing all that great there. But Butler’s in one of those circumstances where you grant him grace, because he played for the Bucks all season.
Within the Thunder offense, Butler’s big opportunity is going to be in catch and shoot situations, off penetration from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, or kickouts from one in the post off a double. Per SportVU, Butler scored 5.4 points a game off catch and shoot this season for Milwaukee (again: he played for the Bucks this season), shooting 38.6 percent on them. He is, however, shooting 39.6 percent on catch and shoot 3s, putting his eFG% on catch and shoot at 50.6 percent.
I’ve already had a couple people ask if he’d start over Thabo, and the answer to that will assuredly be no. I’d expect this: 16-20 minutes a game off the bench playing mostly as a scorer for the second unit, with the potential to slide into fourth quarter smallball lineups like Westbrook, Jackson, Butler, Durant and Ibaka. Butler can play some shooting guard, so it’s not unreasonable to see him in a Westbrook, Butler, Durant, Ibaka, [Insert Big] lineup either. Question is, will Brooks lean on Butler’s scoring, Jackson’s playmaking, Lamb’s shooting, Sefolosha’s defense, or Fisher’s whatever it is? Point is, there are a lot of options now. Not a bad thing.
With two open roster spots available and money to spend, the Thunder were always going to be active in making an addition as they push toward the postseason. The options weren’t awesome (and naturally I left Butler off my list), but with Butler, Danny Granger, Jimmer Fredette and Metta World Peace all available, there was at least some name recognition. A league source close to the talk says the Thunder preferred Butler over Granger, and stopped pursuing the recently signed Clipper forward earlier in the week to focus on Butler. No telling how much interest Granger had in return, but with Butler clearly keen and the Thunder having been burned by lack of two-way interest before, they went that way. Right choice? Hard to know, especially right now. Granger has a bit more pedigree to him, but he’s played less, and worse, the last couple seasons.
Still: A clear need for the Thunder has been perimeter shooting, and while Butler has the capability to make a few, he doesn’t really address that issue in full. It’s doubtful, but assuming Butler took the vet minimum or close to it, the Thunder will still have a little money to spend and another roster spot available. So dream on you fellow Jimmer dreamers.