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Previewing the 2014-15 Pistons: Caron Butler

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Pistons signed Caron Butler for his shooting and leadership. With a crowd of players on the wing, where will Butler fit in?

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

At 34 years old, Caron Butler isn't necessarily the addition you'd expect for a rebuilding team. However, Stan Van Gundy identified the wing as the thinnest area on his roster and shooting as his greatest need.

But there's a reason that Van Gundy targeted Butler over just any shooter on the wing, and paid him $9 million for two years while he was at it. Butler's developed a reputation for his competitive streak and leadership ability, a reputation that both Rick Carlisle and Pat Riley have vouched for. For a franchise that hasn't surpassed 30 wins over the past half-decade, it makes sense why these would be priorities for Van Gundy.

In fact, the Pistons got a look at this last season when Brandon Jennings decided to show up his former team at the tail end of a blowout. But he regularly fills the role of the tough guy who calls out players on the other team and jaws at the nose-to-nose. And for a team filled with personalities ranging from disinterested to laid-back to cheerful, there was a gap for a player with Butler's personality.

2013-14 Year in Review

After struggling with injuries in the two years prior, Butler finally managed a healthy and effective season in 2012-13 as a starter with the 56-win Clippers. But he was shipped out over the summer as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade, moving to his hometown of Milwaukee.

The Bucks were a spectacularly awful team, leading to a buyout of Butler's expiring contract mid-season so that he would be free to sign with a contender to finish out the season, ultimately opting with Oklahoma City.

The talent-poor Bucks leaned on Butler more heavily as a scorer than should have been the case and his efficiency suffered. Thanks to the poor start, he finished the season with his worst field goal percentage in a decade. But he bounced back with the Thunder, finishing the season shooting 44 percent from behind the arc which helped salvage his overall numbers.

While he hasn't shown the dead-eye marksmanship of Stan Van Gundy's other acquisitions like D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, or Cartier Martin, Butler comes with his own form of floor-stretching virtues in his average shot distance. While Meeks may have the superior three point percentage, his average shot distance last season was 14.8 feet, compared to Butler's 19.4 feet. There's not many players who averaged a distance like that, and Butler still managed a respectable 51 percent true shooting percentage.

It's a pretty remarkable transition that Butler has shown over the past few years, as early in his career he did the vast majority of his scoring near the basket. Through his eight seasons in the league, his shots never averaged a distance further than 14 feet, most coming around 10 or 11 feet from the basket. But each year after he hit 30, his average shot distance drifted further and further back without much of a blow to his shooting efficiency. And where once upon a time over 40 percent of his shots came at the rim, less than 10 percent did last year.

As a three point shooter, he jumped from 6.3 attempts per 36 minutes last year from just 1.9 attempts per 36 minutes from four years prior.

The majority of his shots came of the catch-and-shoot, particularly after he joined the Thunder. Focusing on generating catch-and-shoot buckets in Oklahoma City, 5 out of his 8.5 shots per game came in these situations and he put up a fantastic 61.7 percent effective field goal percentage on them.

But don't mistake him for an efficient player. The average small forward puts up 53.5 percent true shooting, a mark Butler hasn't surpassed in the past five years. Butler is essentially a non-factor in the two most efficient areas on the court, at the rim and the free throw line, which makes it an uphill battle to score with above-average efficiency.

2014-15 Projected Production

With all of Van Gundy's additions to the wing, he's left with plenty of options to choose between and the flexibility to ride the hot hand. Similarly to what Pistons fans have seen from Kyle Singler the past couple of years, Butler's shooting and ability to play both wing positions help him consistently carve his way into rotations.

Even joining a team en route to a 59-win season, he was still able to get on the court for 27 minutes per game, cutting in front of Thabo Sefolosha and Jeremy Lamb in the lineup. He's not the type of player who you really want to bet against seeing time on the court.

Still, he's never been a guy who had an easy time staying healthy and turning 30 hasn't helped. And despite his virtues and his ability to carve out playing time, he's also not one who makes that much of a difference on the court. It's unlikely that he'll look like he earned his paycheck on paper, as his contract was signed just as much for aspects that are non-measurable. But the second year of his contract is a team option, and it wouldn't be a surprise if that option is declined.

Expect Butler to be in and out of the rotation at times, but most consistently making his presence felt as the team's vocal leader. His minutes have been on a downward trend, and at 34 that decline is likely to get even steeper.

Prediction

45 games, 20 minutes per game, 8 points per game, 1.5 3pts, 42 three point percentage, 1 assist, .6 steals