The Case for Da’Sean Butler
Butler’s not feeling love from pro scouts…should he?
by Colin Powers
Da’Sean Butler knows how to play the game of basketball. The young man has been amongst the best players in the Big East for three seasons. He has steadied West Virginia through coaching change and player turnover. Time and time again, especially this season, Butler has channeled his West Virginian forefather the Logo aka Mr. Clutch aka Jerry West and delivered game winner after game winner with his squad up against the wall. He’s indisputably one of the defining figures of this year’s college basketball season and don’t be surprised if he further enhances his legacy at the upcoming Big Dance. Beyond all the clichés, Da’Sean Butler shines brightest on the biggest stages and in the biggest moments. Beyond the analytics dispute on the existence of clutch performance, Da’Sean Butler is genuinely money during winning time.
From the looks of most scouting databases and the statements of draft prognosticators, however, Butler is not a very sought after commodity at the next level. His lack of elite-level athleticism, inability to consistently use the dribble-drive, and iffy shooting mechanics are the typical points highlighted by talent evaluators who fail to see Butler translating in the NBA. Valid points all. Butler doesn’t have the goods to be a focal point or creator against the best of the best. Further, Butler probably won’t win over any new supporters in individual workouts where he takes on a series of chairs before mixing it up in a little controlled 1 v. 1, 2 v. 2, 3 v. 3, etc. Look for the next Nickoloz Tskitishvili to really kill it in these simulations, though.
The thing is, just watch the game tape. When it comes to real basketball, Butler does pretty damn well. 17, 6, and 3 this season concluding an amateur career marked by great consistency and production. Going at it in the perennially deep and elite Big East, Butler has asserted himself as one of the most influential players on the court every time he steps out there. I’ll grant that he doesn’t shoot a great percentage, and his style of play may not be the most aesthetically pleasing…but he gets it done. Unfortunately, Butler does not fit the model for an NBA swing man, and many teams fall into the trap of missing the big picture by just looking at the specific ‘tools’ of a basketball player in a vacuum. Sure, those ‘tools’ help outline what someone could be, but they don’t tell you who they are. The essential test, the only one that really matters, is what the player does out there when it counts; how do they help win games?
Da’Sean passes that test for me. Don’t ask him to be the creator, the top dog, the franchise at the next level. Ask him to be that tough, strong, clutch leader he already is, and you’ve got a valuable role player.
For an NBA team that already has its base of game-changing talent, the point is no longer to look for those all-familiar ‘upside’ candidates who just might be a great player if everything goes right in their development. If he could just put it all together…if he ever grasps the mental part of the game, look out…once he finds some consistency and really understands what he’s doing, with all that talent, he’s gonna take off. We all know the examples of these guys, no point dragging their names through the mud again. My point is, knowing how to play and contribute to a winning team is an incredibly important asset. That ability to resolve the ceaseless number of split-second decisions an NBA player encounters out on the court is as much of a talent as a 40-inch vertical or explosive quickness. Of course, there’s a threshold of natural, physical talent necessary to succeed in the League, but it’s the teams that value intelligent, team-oriented players who put themselves in position to win in the long-term.
When you’ve already got the studs, the most cerebral organizations team them with principled, astute, tough-minded winning basketball players who will embrace the team concept and fully invest in the collective goal. Robert Horry, James Posey, PJ Brown, Sam Cassell (in his young days with Houston), Steve Kerr, Ron Harper, those kind of guys. When Sam Presti scanned his roster last June, he rightfully found himself comfortable with Russ Westbrook and Kevin Durant as the two cornerstones. Consequently, he opted for James Harden over Tyreke Evans. He understood Evans is a ball-dominant player who, despite his immense talent, might not gel with the team’s pre-chosen alphas (Russ and KD). Harden, while he may never reach the heights of Evans individually, had a style more naturally complementary to the team already in place in OKC.
It takes five.
Which brings me back to Da’Sean Butler. He’s 6’7 with good strength, he knows how to move off the ball and is confident and comfortable catching and shooting off screens out to around 18-19 feet. His somewhat awkward, old-man kinda game reminds me a little of Chris Douglas-Roberts, who will find success himself once he gets in the right situation. Butler’s a very smart passer, understands the most vulnerable areas of the defense (he did a great job in the short corner throughout the Big East Tournament), and, very importantly, understands where his teammates are most dangerous. Defensively, he buys into the team concept, bumps cutters, and plays the help-side well. Butler also takes maximum advantage of his strong frame, smarts and tenacity in working the glass, averaging right around six rebounds per game for the past three seasons.
Perhaps of utmost significance for Butler, though, is the very rare way his teammates and coaches respond to him. There are a number of very talented guys on West Virginia, but they all without question turn to Butler when the game is on the line. The coaches have absolute faith in his decision-making; in truth, they have more or less turned the season over to Da’Sean. Six times they have entrusted the game’s waning moments to this Newark product, and six times he has delivered. That win-loss record looks a whole lot different for the 2-seeded Mountaineers without Butler’s unbelievable consistency on deciding possessions. He’s the undisputed leader with the complete trust and respect of the entire program.
So come this June, while a bunch of 19-year-old projects, big guys who’ve never really done anything but can jump high and look good in workouts, little guards who have little understanding of how to distribute the ball, and swingmen who can bang one from the free-throw line but don’t know how to get to the stripe in a real game, while those guys are getting drafted, I’ll be waiting to see the organization that scoops up Da’Sean some time in the 2nd round. He’ll be a professional from day one, and he’ll find a way to help the team. Butler’s a winning piece. Period.