Jared Butler wasn’t supposed to be at Baylor. He committed to Alabama and was slated to play for them this season. But in August, he committed and enrolled at Baylor. He was granted an NCAA waiver and allowed to play without sitting out a year.
Jared Butler wasn’t supposed to start at Baylor. With Tristan Clark leading the Bears, and Makai Mason set at point guard, Butler was going to be a rotation piece for the Bears. But Clark suffered a knee injury in January that has him out for the season. And Mason has missed several games with lingering foot and toe injuries.
Butler has been Baylor’s best player over the last month. He’s posted an offensive rating above 100 (where you want to be in that stat), in seven of his last eight games. The Bears would not have won in Ames without his performance. They would have been crushed in Allen Fieldhouse without him. And Texas might be heading to the NCAA Tournament without his absurd play in the last minutes of that game.
Butler’s taken over in a few ways:
Baylor ranked 322nd in 3-point shooting during non-conference. The Bears were the second worst power seven team in making those shots. And with Clark lost for the season, Baylor had to get much better at making perimeter shots.
Butler has been phenomenal from beyond the arc. During conference play, he’s made 42.2% of his 102 attempts. He shot 5.6% higher than LaceDarius Dunn did in conference play as a freshman, and he’s attempted more threes than him under those same conditions (in two fewer games though).
Butler’s become a monster beyond the arc in a few ways. First, he’s willing to take deep threes. Texas Tech, Kansas State and Kansas have top 15 defenses, so Butler firing from well beyond the arc gives him a chance to shoot before the defense meets him:
Second, his shoot is so quick, he doesn’t need much time to release. That means even when good defenders are around, he can fire:
Third, he can make off the dribble triples. Per hoop-math, 41.8% of his threes are unassisted. Only Pierre Jackson (twice) and Kenny Chery (once), have made a larger percentage of their threes unassisted going to back to 2012, the beginning of that data set:
Butler finished 7th in the Big 12 in assist rate. Once again, three areas stick out in this category. First, he’s ridiculous in transition. He’s helped Baylor score before defenses are set:
Second, he can place it right where 3-point shooters want it from tough angles:
Third, he finds teammates near the hoop. Butler’s scoring at the hoop has freed him up to help out teammates:
Like most teams, Baylor runs a ton of pick-and-rolls. The freshman’s dribbling and timing have helped him make the right decision in the pick-and-roll. When opponents go under, he can rise up for three. When they give him space, he can split defenders and go to the rim. And when teams elect to drop another man into the paint, then he can find his teammates:
Scoring at the rim:
Butler has made 64% of his shots at the rim. That mark is over 6% higher than either Makai Mason or King McClure, two guards who do a nice job scoring at the hoop. Going back to 2012, Butler shoots the highest percentage at the rim of any Baylor point guard. He does it with a skilled dribble and adept use of both hands:
Most research shows there isn’t much to show a guy is clutch. Over a long enough sample, the vast majority of players perform to their average.
Butler sure has been clutch though. In Ames, without McClure, he led Baylor with 17 points and 5-of-8 shooting from deep. With Baylor up one, he drained a massive three:
The Bears would have lost to Texas without Butler too. He finished with 15 points, but the timing of his makes stuck out. With Baylor down two with less than 30 seconds left, Butler took the Bears to overtime:
Despite Baylor coming back from a 19 point second half deficit, Texas was ready to pull away in overtime. The Horned Frogs lead by six with 1:30 left. Butler believed Texas could blow another lead:
Baylor’s Best Freshman:
Isaiah Austin played better defense, Quincy Miller had a few more high scoring games, Perry Jones had more talent and LaceDarius Dunn was a more consistent scorer. Each of those guys has a case for the best freshman of the Drew era.
Butler has secured the honor though by what he’s done for the team. The 2012 Bears—at the risk of giving too many hot takes in one article—are my pick for the best Baylor team of all-time. Anthony Jones started on an Elite Eight team. He barely cracked the rotation some nights on the 2012 team. Miller had wonderful games—his work against San Diego State and Missouri are not mentioned enough—but he didn’t take over in key wins. Butler has done that. There’s a unique challenge in being the point guard that Austin, Miller, Jones and Dunn didn’t have. Butler just scored 31 points at Allen Fieldhouse without the team’s best two players entering the season. He kept Baylor in a game where they shot 19% from three.
There’s a good case for several Baylor players to be the best freshman of the Scott Drew era. Jared Butler has the best one.