Monday, April 14, 2014

Empty Points: The Caron Butler Story

With all the different story-lines flying around the Oklahoma City Thunder, their pick-up of Caron Butler at the buy-out deadline has flown somewhat under the radar. In 20 games in OKC, Butler has quietly become one of the key players off their bench, averaging 28 minutes a game. Forget veteran leadership or championship experience - a guy who plays that much has to be measured by his on-court contributions.

On the surface, his numbers with the Thunder - 10 points, 3 rebounds and 1 assist a game on 40% shooting - are respectable. However, a closer look at his statistics and his game reveals a lot of questions about the value Butler is bringing to the floor. In short, Butler is in OKC to chew bubblegum and take a lot of inefficient mid-range jumpers - and it looks like he left his bubblegum in Milwaukee. 

At the age of 34, he's no longer very athletic. At best, he's passable on the defensive end, muscling up wing players on the perimeter and funneling dribble penetration to the Thunder big men. His per-36 minute rebound and assist numbers, meanwhile, are at career lows. When he's on the floor, he's spotting up off the ball and firing up 9 field goal attempts a game. 

Butler is putting up pretty much the exact same numbers he did in Milwaukee, where he averaged 11 points, 4 rebounds and 1.5 assists a game on 39% shooting. It's the same numbers he put up with the Clippers, except he took more FGA's and made them at a slightly higher clip and it's the same numbers he put up with the Mavs. Caron has been on 4 teams in 5 seasons for a reason - he isn't helping teams win.

He was a huge part of the Clippers for two seasons and they replaced him without breaking a sweat. In fact, redistributing his FGA's to more efficient players and his minutes to better defensive players has made them a better team. The number of FGA's on an NBA team is zero-sum - if Caron is hoisting J's, someone else isn't. You want to get more than 1 assist a game and 40% shooting from a guy who takes 9-10 a game. 

It's no surprise he shoots so inefficiently when you take a look at his shot chart. Of his 530 FGA's this season, only 124 are within 16 feet of the basket. He has taken 244 threes and made them at a 39% clip, which is great, but he has also taken 162 (!!) long 2's from 16-23 feet and made them at 38%. Caron can't get to the rim anymore, so when he's creating his own shot, it ends up being up a contested long 2.

There are some games where he has done well in OKC, because he's just firing up a bunch of shots. Every once in a while, he makes a lot of them. But then there are the games where he takes 8-10 shots, makes 2-3 of them and does nothing else in his time on the floor. For the most part, he's putting up a bunch of empty points in the 28 minutes a night Scott Brooks gives them.

This is a guy who is at the end of his rope, in terms of his NBA career. If he's going to be a starter, it will have to be on a 15-win team like Milwaukee. He's kind of like Shane Battier, except he doesn't know his role, he's not as efficient and he's never been known as a defensive stopper. This is a bad situation for OKC and it doesn't appear that he can do (or not do) anything that will make Brooks change his mind.

If he resembles anyone at this point in his career, it's Derek Fisher, another veteran retread whose being given minutes on a title contender purely out of the goodwill of Brooks. They have got two old guys coming off their bench who can't play good D, can't create shots for anyone else, can't rebound and take a lot of bad shots. That's a recipe for disaster in a seven-game series.

Butler and Fisher will probably have some big playoff games, just because they take so many shots some of them are bound to go in. But over the next two months, their percentages will regress to the mean. I'm not sure a team can win a championship giving Caron Butler and Derek Fisher 35 minutes a night. They have PER's of 10.3 and 11.6 for a reason - they are not very good at basketball anymore. 

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