Oklahoma City Thunder: Where Does Caron Butler Fit in Playoff Picture?

Jared Porter@@JaredPorter_BRCorrespondent IIApril 6, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Caron Butler drives around Utah Jazz forward Richard Jefferson (24) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Sunday, March 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder signed Caron Butler on March 1 after being released by the Milwaukee Bucks. Adding Butler made sense for the Thunder since they had an open roster spot available, and they were in dire need of perimeter shooting, a service Butler brings to this Thunder team. 

In the 15 games Butler has played this season for the Thunder, he has averaged 9.6 points per game on 36 percent shooting, which is so-so. However, Butler has done well in his three-point shooting—the main reason the Thunder acquired him—by averaging 40 percent from downtown. 

And per Anthony Slater, Thunder beat writer for NewsOK.com, Butler has his own three-point streak going:

Caron Butler has hit a three in 12 consecutive games. Thunder lead is up to 79-71.

— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 5, 2014

Before signing with the Thunder, Butler received interest from another title-contending team in the Miami Heat. The one-time NBA champion (2011 with the Dallas Mavericks) and two-time All-Star (2007, 2008) has veteran experience and leadership he brings to the table, which is one of the reasons the Thunder and Heat were interested in acquiring him for their playoff runs. 

Mike Fuentes

Even though Butler already has a championship ring from the 2011 season with the Mavericks, he didn't play a single postseason game in their championship run due to a torn patella. So playing time played a big role in Butler's decision-making when choosing between the Heat or the Thunder. 

It wasn't quite clear how Butler would fit into the Heat lineup and how much playing time he would get, so he chose the Thunder, the team he knew he would be able to leave his mark in their title run. 

But the question still remains: How many minutes will Butler get in the Thunder's postseason play?

Thus far, Butler has averaged 28.7 minutes per game for the Thunder, per ESPN.com. But Butler's playing time has received a hefty boost due to Thabo Sefolosha being out due to a calf injury. 

Albeit, Thunder head coach Scott Brooks is showing his belief in Butler by giving him minutes over other Thunder roster players that played a bigger role before Butler's acquisition. 

The player that has been effected the most by Butler's arrival is Jeremy Lamb. Despite the players playing different positions, Brooks has altered his rotation and has led to Lamb receiving fewer minutes game by game.

Lamb averaged 24.6 minutes per game in January, and 18.8 February. But after the Butler signing, Lamb's minutes took a hefty dip by averaging 14.8 mpg in March, and 11.8 in April. 

Danny Moloshok

It's obvious Butler is receiving priority over Lamb, but is this the right decision for Brooks and the Thunder? 

This is really a pick-your-poison type debate. Lamb is averaging just 7.3 points per game this season—albeit, he has taken a huge dip in minutes recently—and is averaging 43 percent shooting from the field, seven percent higher than Butler's average with the Thunder. In Butler's favor, however, he's averaging five percent better in his three-point shooting than Lamb (35 percent). 

There's obviously much more to consider than just the stats when debating how many minutes each player should receive. As mentioned earlier, Butler has the intangibles of veteran leadership and experience, Lamb is in just his second year with the Thunder and has zero playoff experience. But on the other hand, Lamb moves better without the ball, and arguably has a more well-rounded offensive game than Butler. 

Then there's the defense. Neither player is known for their defensive playmaking, which leads us to believe Sefolosha will have a significant role in the playoffs since his defensive skill set is far superior to both Butler and Lamb. 

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - JANUARY 5, 2014:  Avery Bradley #0 of the Boston Celtics chases the ball against Thabo Sefolosha #25 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Chesapeake Arena on January 5, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly ackn
NBA Photos/Getty Images

And according to Darnell Mayberry on NewsOK.com, Sefolosha may return very soon for the Thunder after missing 16 straight games with a strained right calf, which will give us a glimpse of how Brooks plans to handle his rotation with Butler, Lamb and Sefolosha all in the Thunder lineup.

Sefolosha said he will “hopefully” play before the end of this current trip but added that his priority is his health and not playing as many games as possible before the end of the regular season.

But it appears Sefolosha is making great progress. Before the Thunder faced the Rockets, Sefolosha went through a rigorous on-court workout, which was viewed as another step forward. But he has yet to participate in a practice or shootaround, which makes Sunday’s game at Phoenix an unlikely return date. Tuesday’s game at Sacramento could be a more realistic target.

Simply put, Brooks will have to do some critical thinking concerning how much playing time the players mentioned should receive. It's a good problem to have, considering each player has different facets they bring to the Thunder. And more than likely, the playing time for Butler, Lamb and Sefolosha will vary depending on different matchups and situations throughout the playoffs. 

It isn't clear how Butler's involvement for the Thunder will play out come playoff time. But he will certainly get the opportunity to contribute and leave his mark this postseason, something he was unable to do with the Mavericks in their NBA title run. 

For more Thunder news and analysis, follow @JaredPorter_BR on Twitter. 


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