Grading Caron Butler's Performance with the OKC Thunder so Far

Shehan Peiris@@shehan_peiris_Correspondent IIIMarch 16, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 4: Caron Butler #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks to pass the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during an NBA game on March 4, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Every Western Conference power added personnel during the NBA trade and buyout season, and the Oklahoma City Thunder are no different.

Names like Danny Granger, Steve Blake and Glen Davis found new homes over the past month, and Caron Butler was the lucky fellow to relocate to Oklahoma. He’s already found a prominent spot in the Thunder rotation and has quickly earned the trust of his new coach and teammates with his stellar play.

When the news broke that Butler signed with OKC, many weren’t exactly sure where he would slot into the depth chart with talented wing players like Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb and Thabo Sefolosha (eventually) in the mix.

If early signs are anything to go by, we can expect Butler to be a critical piece of any postseason run by the Thunder.

OKC Minutes
PlayerMinutes Per Game
Kevin Durant38.2
Serge Ibaka32.8
Caron Butler27.4
Russell Westbrook26.8
Reggie Jackson23.2
Perry Jones20.4
Derek Fisher19.2
Steven Adams14.4
Nick Collison10.0
Jeremy Lamb10.0
Andre Roberson9.0
Hasheem Thabeet7.8
Reggie Williams1.0

There has been no gradual adjustment to the Thunder way. Instead, head coach Scott Brooks has thrust Butler into the fire and given him more minutes than anybody but Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. In those minutes, Butler has fared very well.

Caron Butler Stats
Points Per Game8.4
Rebounds Per Game3.8
Assists Per Game1.0
Field-Goal Percentage36.7%
Three-Point Percentage35.7%

How well? I’m glad you asked.

To get an estimate of Butler’s performance with his new team, let’s break down his five-game performance (admittedly, a small sample size) into offense and defense and grade him based on his statistical output and how well he’s fulfilled his role.

Defense: A-

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Butler used to be one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. While he has certainly lost a step in terms of his athletic ability, he still has the instincts and intelligence to make an impact on that end of the court.

With versatile defenders like Thabo Sefolosha and Perry Jones on the team, Butler won’t be relied on to truly lock down the best opposing perimeter players. That said, Butler has received extended minutes in this five-game stint and has spent time covering the opposition’s best players for long stretches.

Moreover, thanks to Kendrick Perkins' absence, Butler has had to guard bigger players with the Thunder switching to small lineups more frequently.

With all of this responsibility, Butler has been good. Here’s how he has performed defensively, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

As you can see from the numbers, Butler has been excellent in isolation and post defense, keeping his man under half a point per possession. Butler has already acclimated to the Thunder’s team defensive philosophies, and he’s a useful Swiss Army knife that Coach Brooks can deploy in a variety of situations.

Offense: B

Mar 11, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA;  Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Caron Butler (2) handles the ball against Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

When OKC has the ball, Butler isn’t counted on to do very much. In essence, all he has to do is knock down perimeter shots. Right now he’s connecting on 35.7 percent of his long-range attempts, which is acceptable.

His true value—as we’ve learned in the age of analytics—needs to come from the corners, where he’s only made three of his 12 three-point attempts (25 percent).

Both of those numbers need to improve moving forward, but his high basketball IQ allows him to be effective on offense even if he isn’t making his shots.

Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman reported that Coach Brooks had high praise for Butler after his first game in a Thunder jersey:

He went out there and played basketball the right way. If he had a shot, he took it. If he had a pass, he passed it. And we have to continue to add that mentality to our team.

For now, he’s been serviceable on offense, but he’ll make the Thunder really tough to beat if he can perfect his shooting stroke.

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