Caron Butler: A Manageable Loss
Caron Butler is set to miss the next four to six weeks with a broken left hand, an unfortunate injury that shortens the Clippers' bench at an obviously critical time. If Game 1 between Los Angeles and Memphis didn't make the nature of this first-round series quite clear, allow me to spell it out in more explicit terms: the Clips and Grizzlies have no release save to claw their way through their opponent, and the balance on both sides of this series is as such that every game should be brutally competitive to the very end.
Thus, L.A. needs every able body and every bit of help they can get, and obviously suffer quite a loss with Butler's injury. From a theoretical standpoint, the Clippers are losing their top wing player (their second starting wing lost to injury this season), a valuable corner shooter, a hardworking on-ball defender and an occasional (if self-inflated) source of isolation scoring.
Yet even with all of that in mind, it's easy to imagine Nick Young — who was acquired by the Clippers midseason — fulfilling many of Butler's responsibilities. Young gets a bad rap for his defensive folds in Washington, but he's actually been serviceable on the ball thus far in Los Angeles, even if his conceptual understanding of help defense and ability to track his man away from the ball are a bit lacking at this stage.
No one could reasonably expect Young's insertion into the lineup to make any considerable impact to L.A.'s defense, but at the very least he shouldn't be a liability against the likes of Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo.
On the offensive end, Young could actually manage to provide a bit more value than Butler. Young's reputation as a gunner speaks for itself in a way, and yet that stylistic attribute — seen by many as a vice that negates Young's value — may be a better fit for an offense orchestrated by such a brilliant playmaker.
Passers like Chris Paul make amazing feeds with incredible accuracy, but just as impressive is their sense of timing; Paul manages to find cutters and shooters at the exact moment that a defense exposes its vulnerabilities, maximizing a precious advantage before the defense recovers and negates the impact of the pass altogether.
As such, in order for such productive feeds to hold any real value for the offense, the resulting action must be immediate. A player doesn't have to shoot, necessarily, but whether they fire away, attack off the dribble or swing the ball to another player, it must be done with the urgency necessary to keep an opposing defense on its toes.
Young has no problem doing just that, as he's virtually guaranteed to attempt a shot within a second of catching the ball. He may be a gunner to a fault, but at least he's a quick trigger. By contrast, Butler's desire to break his man down with jab steps and pump fakes make him a poor match for Paul's holistic table-setting; he seeks to do more work despite not needing to, and as a result affords the defense time to rotate and reposition.
Butler's loss could inevitably have ripple effects further down the depth chart (particularly if L.A. makes it out of the first round), but in terms of initial replacement, Young may actually provide the more suitable option. It's a shame that the Clippers needed this kind of injury to push that course into action, but with some repetition, this new projected starting lineup may yet prove to be the more stable offensive unit.
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