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Hoops Exchange: How Good is Jimmy Butler?

Guest writer Tim Adkins joined me for an impromptu email exchange for some random observations about the first month of the 2014-15 NBA Season. Topics included best shooting guard, franchise players and the improved Eastern Conference.

Tim Adkins: Completely unrelated–but because I’m seeing your recent People’s Court post on the right of the screen–I was meaning to ask if y’all had started including Jimmy Butler in the best two-way two-guard conversations. I think it was last Thursday he put in work on the first half of a national doubleheader before Klay Thompson rec’d all the fawning in the second game. Made for an interesting juxtaposition.

Lamont Peoples: We’ve not had any discussions on best two-way shooting guard. Though Butler has certainly added himself to that very short list. Thompson got off to such a hot start that he got all that attention. I don’t think he can play at that high of a level for the whole season. Butler seems to be taking advantage of the opportunities given to him by a roster that’s loaded offensively. His defense is all-galaxy. If we do a segment on this would you care to weigh in?

TA: I should say upfront that I think the ongoing argument about the best two-way shooting guard is kind of bullshit. It’s clearly throwing a forest of shade at James Harden. While I’m not a big fan of that dude’s game, I think he (and maybe Kobe about 50% of the time now) is/are the only franchise player(s) who can be described accurately as shooting guards. To me, franchise player (regardless of a player’s flaws) is a better metric for evaluating greatness. All that said, from the few Bulls games I’ve seen this season, Butler has earned his way into the conversation commonly populated by Thompson, Beal and DeRozan. And from what I’ve seen, Butler looks like an incredibly complete offensive player. It’s a very small sample size, but I’ve been very impressed by how his game has evolved. If I see a few more Bulls games, I think I’d be comfortable participating in a segment.

Aside #1: I have no idea what position we should assign to Lance Stephenson and Gordon Hayward, but those dudes regularly flirt with franchise player status.

Aside #2: I don’t think D Wade has a logical place in any of these positional conversations. He has some elite player life left from game to game, but his body isn’t consistent enough to allow his play to be clearly defined and evaluated any more.

Aside #3: I’m assuming Oladipo and Wiggins will eventually be added to the short list of shooting guards, but I don’t think either has earned their way onto it yet.

Aside #4: I was completely unprepared for Eric Gordon to be the odd man out in New Orleans. Could totally see a more consistent shooting Austin Rivers stealing his minutes in the second half of the season.

Aside #5: Monta Ellis has no position any of us understand. He is a galaxy unto himself. And he dances around and over the worlds we think we have inhabited.

LP: You think more highly of this current version of Kobe than I do. I don’t think he’s a franchise player any more. Sure he’s the face of the Lakers and their undisputed leader, but he doesn’t meet the other requirement. He’s no longer capable of being the best player of a title contending team. Matter of fact, I don’t even know if he belongs in this conversation. His PER of 20.21 has him tied with Jordan Hill for 53rd overall in the league and 7th among SGs. I realize it’s only one way to measure a player, but the point is he’s no longer even close to the player he was to when Dwight was his teammate. And that was only 2 years ago. [Update: A day after sending this Kobe made me eat my words.] Wade might be better than him right now, I don’t know.

Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE /Getty Images

James Harden is the best shooting guard in the league despite his flaws. I agree with you that the only reason people would even debate is because they don’t like him. His game isn’t the most fun to watch. He goes to the FT line a ton and nobody likes the way he drives to create contact to get to the charity stripe.

He flops and flopping is still perceived as some epidemic that plagues the league. That 9 minute video of his awful defense hasn’t done him any favors either. He did seem to at least be trying on that end the few games I’ve seen him this season.

I completely forgot about Beal and DeRozan. I’ve only seen one Raptors’ game so far and Demar looked good even if the camouflage jersey he was wearing didn’t. Is Beal back yet?

Aside #1 – Stephenson is a 2 guard that play some 3 if needed. Vice versa for Hayward. Neither of them fit my definition of franchise player though Hayward is closer of the two. Are we defining franchise player the same way?

Aside #2 – See above for thoughts on Wade. His health is a major concern. We’ll see if, how and when he wears down as the season progresses.

Aside #3 – Minnesota should be happy with the early returns on Wiggins.  Lots of things to like about the kid’s game that will hopefully improve as he plays more. I need to see more of Oladipo, but most people seemed to like year 1 from him.

Aside #4 – The Chris Paul trade ruined two players – Lamar Odom (personally and professionally) and Eric Gordon. For about 45-50 games, Gordon looked like he was going to be behind Brandon Roy for next best shooting guard. We know what happened to Roy. I think Gordon has had injury issues throughout his career. I’ll skip over how bad his stats are and say that losing minutes to Austin Rivers has to be low point for him.

Aside #5 – Unless last season was an anomaly, Rick Carlisle understands about 12.734% of Monta. That’s more than anybody understands Monta, including Monta.

Sympathy #1 – Wherever he is and whatever he’s doing, I hope Odom has gotten his life together.  The guy excelled at being a (I’m not sure what to call his category) player and very soon no one will remember that.

TA: I think we are defining franchise player a bit differently. I’m thinking of it first as a player who will carry a disproportionate workload yet who will still perform at a high level. I’m thinking of it second as one of the 2-3 guys who will help a team contend for a title. In other words, I think there are levels to being a franchise player.

James Harden is a really good example of how I view things. I don’t believe he is capable of being a franchise player who will help you win a title. But I do think he can perform at a very high level while carrying big responsibilities on offense. In a best case scenario, he helps a good team make the playoffs and maybe win a round or two. In a worst case scenario, he helps a 20-win team eke out a 30-win season. All of which is to say I think he exists on a level above Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal, et al. But below LeBron, Durant, et al.

I’ve not watched much of many Laker games this year. It hurts my feelings too much. But what I’ve seen of Kobe is impressive. Given his age and the two most recent injuries he’s coming back from, I’m surprised his body will do the things it can still do. That’s a separate matter from his PER, of course. I really think his peers now are Wade and Ginobili. And I think if Kobe had two other franchise guys helping him out, I think he could still be a driving force on a team that could contend. His psychological makeup and his onerous contract don’t make that possible. But his game could conceivably still rate as franchise player-like under the right circumstances.

Beal is not back yet. They say his return could come at the end of this week or early next. He’s coming back from a wrist injury so his fitness should be okay. But his shot may take some time to return all the way.

I am so with you on that Chris Paul trade. What damage David Stern hath wrought. Last piece of news I see about L.O. is that he’s not yet signed the divorce papers for that Kardashian chick. No news available about his health and well-being.

LP: Don’t think you can give Stern the bill for Lamar’s downfall. If memory serves me, he was part of the trade that Stern vetoed, sounded downtrodden in an interview with Stephen A. Smith, met with Kupchak then ended up in Dallas.

Hopefully it won’t take Beal too long to get his shot back. Wizards and Raptors are probably the only two teams in the Eastern Conference able to push the Bulls or Cavs in a series. I’d like for both of them to continue trending upward if for no other reason I’m ready for people to stop complaining about how bad that Conference is. It certainly is the inferior conference though not quite as bad people make it seem. The Raptors and Wizards are good playoff teams, a level or so below title contention. Thoughts on that?

Now that I think about it I don’t know if I have my own concrete definition of a franchise player. I’ve usually just left it at “best player on a team that can compete for a title” or, in Kobe’s case, the player people are paying to watch. I like including the “adding 10 wins part” to the equation. Kobe’s ego definitely won’t allow him to be option #2 or #3. It could only add to his legacy if was willing to go the Duncan or Pierce route. Houston probably would’ve missed the playoffs Harden’s first season there if you removed him from the roster. That most certainly puts him above all of his age peers that play his position

TA: I concede the point on Lamar Odom. No one person is responsible for his downfall. And that includes Lamar Odom.

Raptors and Wizards are legit. The lone game between them notwithstanding–a lopsided Raps win–I think Washington is better. Toronto’s frontcourt lacks consistency. Either for health reasons or otherwise. The Wizards at full strength can rock with either Chicago or Cleveland in a seven game series. No one is waiting on that team any more. They’re here and they’re contending this year. I don’t think they are as strong a contender as Chicago or Cleveland, but I think they’ve laced up and are running in that race. I don’t think you can say the same about Toronto. But I could be biased as I’ve never believed in Kyle Lowry as much as I believe in John Wall.

AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

A few more thoughts I’d like to add on about Butler & Thompson – I think the key difference between them is that Thompson seems to identify as a shooter, while Butler seems to identify as a scorer.

Every once in a while, I’ll see Klay flip a shot toward the rim as a bailout move because he can’t think of anything else to do and he really, really trusts his ability to make the ball go through the hoop. It’s usually a bad decision. Sometimes, they go in. And sometimes, they make him look like a guy who’s much, much less than the second best player on an NBA contender.

Mr. Butler, on the other hand, seems to be primarily interested in the result and not the process–the most elementary way to distinguish between scorer and shooter. He doesn’t always make great decisions. But, thus far this season, I’ve not seen him make decisions that seem silly. Last night, in particular, there was a play where Butler jumped with Blake Griffin late in the fourth. Blake had timed it perfectly so he should have easily blocked the smaller player’s shot. But Butler used his body much more perfectly to shield the ball. Butler made an incredibly difficult left-hander, got the foul and sealed the three-point play. It’s a play I could see Thompson making. But I’m not sure that’s the play he would make instinctively. I can’t imagine Butler doing anything else.

I know we’re dealing in very small sample sizes for this season (& I’ve certainly watched only a very small amount of each player), but if I have to pick only one of Butler or Thompson to be on my team, I’m going with Jimmy Buckets.

LP: Rather surprised at how much faith you put in the Wizards. I’ve not seen anything written by anyone that thinks the Wizards can contend. Chris and I almost certainly didn’t even consider including them on our lists of Teams That Matter. Lowry vs Wall is an interesting discussion. Both have positives, negatives and appear to be continuing their stellar performances from a season ago. I’ll defer to you on this subject and agree that if I had to pick one I’d take Wall.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually distinguish the difference between a scorer and a shooter. Certainly not as succinctly and eloquently as you did. Those two terms get used often when someone is describing a player.

Speaking of last night’s Bulls/Clippers game, watching it I noticed a major yet subtle difference with the Bulls. They will always compete and give it their all (Coach Thibs and Joakim Noah won’t let them be any other way), but they are much more fun to watch than they’ve been in years past. We all know their roster better offensively than they’ve been in a long time even without Pau and Rose in the lineup. I was caught off guard when I realized, perhaps belatedly, that their good AND entertaining. I’ve got more thoughts on them, namely Pau, but I believe I’ll save that for a separate piece.

Any final thoughts before we write a novel?

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