On Friday, the Thunder came to an agreement with recently bought out swingman Caron Butler. Butler played 34 games with the Milwaukee Bucks this season, and served as their third or fourth scoring option after Brandon Knight and a pair of struggling veterans in O.J. Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova.
Okay, that might sound like a backhanded compliment. Still, Butler is probably one of the best options among the recent wave of post-trade deadline buyouts. In fact, I'd argue him as the top player over Danny Granger. With that said, it's up in the air how much Butler has left. He's 33 years old now, and kind of just went through the motions with the Bucks. In 24.1 minutes per game, he averaged 11.0 points on 38.7% shooting from the field. The player formerly nicknamed 'Tuff Juice' has seen a lot of his toughness fade away in recent years, replaced by contested pull-up jumpers from deep midrange. Tuff Twos.
Since joining the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011, Butler has shot 41.0% from the field and 37.2% from three. His game has been on the decline for years, and even before joining the woefully talent-depleted Bucks, his shot selection has been wonky for a while. Be it long twos with a hand in the face or post-up tries from the short corner area, Butler will pull the trigger on them. He's never been particularly efficient, topping out at a 46.6% field goal percentage in his second of two consecutive All-Star seasons in 2007-08 with the Washington Wizards. Well, Tuff Twos is even farther from efficient now.
On the bright side? Butler doesn't have to take tough shots with the Thunder. This team is loaded with perimeter scorers, starting from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and extending to Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. This is the best unit possible to make use of Butler's three-point shooting, as aspect of his game that has trended upwards as his career has unfolded. His percentages have neared 'above average' more than 'specialist', but that's still a marked improvement from the early stages of his career and he will definitely help a Thunder team relying on Derek Fisher and Lamb for spot-up shooting.
You have to look no farther than February 18th against the Orlando Magic, Butler's penultimate game with the Bucks, to see what he can do from beyond the arc. In that game, he shot 7-of-13 from three to score 21 points in 29:11 of playing time. YouTube user DownToBuck compiled his seven makes here:
When it's going in, Butler's shot can look beautiful with an effortless wind-up and a natural tilt forward as he shoots. Back when he played with the Clippers, he was taking his game closer and closer to being a three-point specialist on offense. He would pump fake and attack the rim every once in a while to try for a dunk or otherwise pull up for jumpers, and though he's no longer the 20 point-per-game scorer he once was, there's enough versatility in his game to keep the defense on their toes even as a spot-up weapon.
It'll probably be similar with the Thunder, a team with other players to direct the attention of the defense unlike the Bucks. There's no need to force feed Butler isolation plays since he's no longer playing with Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo, and it should be safe to expect a rise from his shooting percentages with the Bucks as he joins Durant and Westbrook. He'll help them by spacing the floor and making defenses pay when they leave him alone. Given his off-the-bounce creativity, there'll be plenty of liberty for him to create something against a recovering defense after the catch. That's another way of saying "pull-up jumper from 18 feet", but that type of shot is much more effective against a defender trying to recover out of a weak-side spot-up instead of one set up against a player in an isolation.
And, you know, he still has a bit of his old bounce! Every once in a while, he'll show up on the highlight reel with one of these.
For the Thunder, this was likely a signing to address three-point shooting and add another bench scoring while picking up a player with fewer flaws to his overall game than most of the other three-point specialists available. Don't discount Butler's ability to help on defense, which was likely a reason he was signed over other players like Jimmer Fredette. He's not a 3-and-D player anymore, slow laterally and often geting stuck on screens. Still, he remains feisty with his hands and doesn't get beat in the post without one hell of a fight.
Butler's also good for a number of rebounds and offers solid size out on the perimeter at 6'7". The Thunder oddly lack guys in between 6'4" and 6'9", with only Thabo Sefolosha (now out for the rest of the season), Lamb and rarely-used Andre Roberson falling in the range. It's not quite a flaw, as Durant and Perry Jones III are both nearly seven feet tall and handle themselves on the perimeter very well. At the same time, Brooks doesn't really seem to trust PJ3 and Butler being a veteran will almost definitely take his minutes. Sefolosha's injury will leave some playing time available for the former, but most of it will end up going to the latter due to the Derek Fisher Rule: vets get minutes, young guys don't.
Butler's a guy that the Thunder can slot in as the nominal 3 in small ball lineups, pushing KD to the 4 without actually using three guards alongside him. The line kind of blurs between shooting guard and small forward when you consider Sefolosha, but he's out for 4-6 weeks and the same isn't true for Lamb who's a developing defender and often is forced to guard much taller guys when paired alongside Westbrook and Jackson. Butler can take that heat off of him. Given Sefolosha's injury, it's probably safe to expect a 20-25 minute role for Butler, who played 24.1 minutes for the Bucks this season. He might see some time as the fill-in starter, though PJ3 and Lamb will also be candidates for that role.
According to Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, Butler won't be available for tomorrow's game against the Charlotte Bobcats. Instead, he'll practice with the Thunder on Monday before suiting up for Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. With Sefolosha's injury, Butler could see legitimate action and possibly even start from the get-go. It'll be very interesting to see how adding a player of his caliber can make up for the short-term loss of Sefolosha and move the needle overall for the Thunder, a team already challenging the rest of the league for the title of the NBA's best team at the moment. Go get 'em, Tuff Twos.