Quietly, Jared Butler is putting together one of the better seasons Baylor has seen from a freshman guard. Since conference play began, he is averaging 10.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game while shooting an impressive 43.5% on 4.6 three-point attempts per game. Those numbers have him neck and neck with Kansas’s highly touted freshman Devon Dotson and place Butler among some of the better freshman performances Baylor has seen in recent years. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll be in line for peripheral draft consideration come June. Assuming he stays, though, Scott Drew could have a real gem on his hands.
First, let’s compare Butler and Dotson, whose situations are actually very similar. Both guards are playing alongside more veteran players (Makai Mason and Lagerald Vick, respectively) who demand more touches and shots. Both guys also play in systems that are trying to share the ball among a number of capable scorers. Dotson has to make sure Dedric Lawson and Quentin Grimes get enough touches, while Drew has instituted a free-flowing offense in absence of Tristan Clark, previously the hub of the offense down low. Both freshman have had to find their place in somewhat complex ecosystems, Butler even more so than Dotson, who has been the Jayhawk’s lead ball-handler from the start. Butler had to begin the season as the third guard behind Mason and King McClure. He has since become the second guard behind Mason and leads the second unit when Mason sits for early rest. Despite the disparate recruiting hype surrounding these two, Butler and Dotson’s stat lines are nearly identical.
The only true difference between them is where they are getting their shots. Dotson’s athleticism allows him to get to the rim and draw fouls at an excellent rate, but he’s not much of an outside shooter. Butler, meanwhile, has the green light to fire with even a hint of space. He’s proven to be capable of knocking them down, too. Butler has also shown the ability to get to the rim with a sound handle and excellent positioning. He gets his defender on his hip and goes straight into the chest of would-be shot blockers, giving him the opportunity to kiss the ball off the glass. He still goes right on nearly all his drives, and he doesn’t get to the rim as much as he seems capable of, but he is opportunistic in both the half court and in transition.
Butler, whose shooting splits in conference are already 44%/44%/81%, can become a versatile three-level scorer as the primary ball handler of a team. In fact, he is already among some of Baylor’s most notable guards.
If we narrow that list down to 40% three-point shooters, Butler looks even more impressive.
The freshman is already fairly even with Manu Lecomte in his junior season and a smidge better than a senior Lester Medford. Granted, those players sustained that level of play over a full conference slate. Butler isn’t even halfway through his first Big XII season. Things could fall of for him, particularly if his outside shot begins to falter. Even if he maintains this level of play for the remainder of the season, there is always a chance he could regress in coming seasons. Baylor’s guard depth won’t be any thinner next season with Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague coming off transfer years. There are no guarantees that Butler doesn’t go the way of Al Freeman if things don’t progress the way he expects.
For now, though, let’s appreciate Butler for the boost he has provided this team. His efforts have been no small part of the Baylor Bear’s completely unforeseen 5 game conference winning streak. After the early non-conference losses and Clark’s season-ending surgery, it looked like a loss season for the Bears. Now, Butler is helping his team knock on the door for a Tournament bid come March.
If Butler sticks around for another season or three, he has the potential to be one of the great Baylor guards in the school’s history. With his feel and shooting, he could easily become a reliable 15 point, 6 assist lead guard — maybe even something beyond that. Drew might already be dreaming of a Butler-Clark high pick-and-roll over the next two seasons. I certainly am.