Lamont Butler showed a lot of talent over his freshman season. Is he a superstar? No. Can he get there with time? Very possibly. His stats aren’t anything special though. He shot less than 40% from the field as a freshman (29% from deep), struggled to hit free throws, and had almost as many turnovers as he had assists. If a point guard struggles to score, shoot, and pass, what good are they?
This is where numbers and analytics don’t tell the whole story. They tell the “what,” but not the “why” or “how.” All the deficiencies listed above are things that can be corrected with practice and experience. Butler just finished his freshman season, and due to Covid changes he still has four years of eligibility left, should he decide to use all of them.
There are other factors that will contribute to his success, ones that don’t show up in the stat sheet.
First off, Butler understands pace. Most young players have spent their lives being able to dominate based simply on their athletic talents. In high school they’re either big enough or fast enough to get by just about anyone. College stars are the same way, they’re just so elite athletically that they can continue to dominate in college solely because they’re bigger and faster. Guys like Zion Williamson never needed to learn much about the game. Lamont Butler, has learned that even though he’s fast enough to get by most guys, it is easier to do so with subtle changes of pace and direction. On a drive he’ll slow down for a split second before driving to the rim. During the second he slows down the defender will start moving closer to him, and that’s when Butler explodes. By the time the defender switches directions again it’s too late.
Controlling the pace like that is a skill many players never learn, and when they do it’s only after a few seasons in the NBA. Having that skill already bodes well for Lamont’s future. It’s what helps him get to the basket so often. He’ll get better at finishing around the basket with more experience, but the ability to get there so easily puts him ahead of many of his peers.
Plus, he’s already flashed a lot of ability to finish around the basket. Take this finish against one of the best shot blockers in the country in Neemias Queta.
The thing that truly makes Butler special though is his aggressiveness. He is an attacker. On both sides of the floor he goes at opponents and plays bigger than he is. He goes after guys on both ends of the floor too. On offense he attacks the basket with reckless abandon. On defense he gets into the opponents personal space, makes them uncomfortable, and takes the ball from them more often than a 6’0 player should.
Here he is in transition. Notice how he weaves his way in between 3 defenders and finishes over Justin Bean. Notice his control of pace as he slows down ever so slightly before using the cross over to make bean flip his hips. A less aggressive player would’ve stopped the attack to set up the half court offense. A less skilled player would’ve been aggressive but ran right into the double team and likely caused a turnover. Butler finishes with a layup and a foul.
Here he is attacking the ball handler. Notice how he jumps into the ball handler’s path, cutting off the drive, and then reaches in for the steal. Butler finished with five total steals in this game. On the season he finished with a steal percentage of 4.1%. For context, the 25th highest steal percentage in the nation was 4.1%. Butler didn’t qualify for the leaderboard because he didn’t play enough minutes, but in that small sample size it was really good.
This last clip combines a little offense and defense. Butler starts with a steal. It was a risky steal because if he missed it he’s giving up a wide open three to a deadly shooter. His high IQ and quick reaction time help him come away with it. Then he’s off on the fast break. Except there are two defenders in between him and the basket. As with before, a less aggressive player would’ve pulled back and set up the half court offense. Butler manages to get by both defenders and finishes with a Euro step.
Lamont Butler’s aggressiveness is what really stands out. He has some skill, and will develop more. Having a (hopefully) full offseason to practice will help a lot. Coaches can’t teach that level of aggressiveness though. Coach Dutcher likes to build his offense around a pick and roll threat, and then surround them with shooters. For the next three to four years opposing defenses will have to figure out how to keep Butler out of the paint, because he wants to live there. In the process, they will more often than not give up an open look to either the roll man or a shooter around the perimeter. In addition, opposing point guards will have their hands full with his aggressive full court defense.
The Aztecs will be in good hands for the next few years.