Success in basketball often starts with the point guard. The point guard is responsible for running the offense and ensuring the team gets the best possible shot. This is especially true under Coach Dutcher, who likes to run a lot of pick and roll in his offensive system. Having a player who is comfortable making the reads to either score or pass is crucial to the Aztecs’ offensive success.
The way the roster is currently set up, it looks like Darrion Trammell will technically start at the point guard position, but Lamont Butler is still slated to start and will have many point guard responsibilities as well. The Aztecs play a more position less style of basketball, and Coach Dutcher likes to have as many playmakers on the floor as possible.
Defensive Abilities –
Lamont Butler’s best attribute is defense. He was rated as the best defender in the mountain west according to BPR, second according to PIPM, and seventh according to POE. His offense struggled at times last season, but his defense was always elite.
His main defensive benefit is his ability to be disruptive and force turnovers.
Those turnovers often turn into points on the other end. Most guys that try to play this style get burned just as much as they succeed, but Butler is able to succeed far more often than a regular player, although he does sometimes get called for fouls at times with his aggressive play. Learning when to go for the steal vs when to just stay in front will help with his development on that end.
He is also stronger than most players his size, which allows him to bang against bigger players. He is able to bother them down low and push them away from the basket.
Overall, he is a very well rounded defensive player. His abilities allow him to guard the opponents best ball handler, saving guys like Matt Bradley for the offensive end.
Offensive Abilities –
Lamont Butler had a very up and down year offensively. He started out looking really good, then hurt his wrist on a dunk against Long Beach St. and missed time. Then right as he was healthy again the team went on covid pause. It took him awhile to regain his form, but by the end of the season he was starting to show flashes of his pre-injury self, culminating in a 16 point effort on 5-6 from the floor in the MW Championship game.
One example of his game returning late is his pick and roll efficiency. Over the course of the season it was bad, but over the three games in the Mountain West Tournament, Butler performed very well, showing to be a more willing passer and a capable scorer. It was an incredibly small sample, but potentially showed flashes of things to come.
Another example, Lamont Butler started the season shooting 47% from deep. Then broke his wrist, then dealt with a covid pause, and lost offensive rhythm. When he came back he shot 23% from deep over the next 15 games. At the end of the season he seemed to be getting his rhythm back, shooting 43% over the last 5 games. He seems to be a capable stand still shooter when healthy.
Adding another floor spacer should help the team out a lot, so if Butler can consistently hit his outside shots the offense will be much better.
Butler is not much of a shooter off the dribble though. His shots off the dribble tend to come out flat. He does not yet have the ability to consistently come off a screen and hit a three pointer the way Malachi Flynn would, or even an elbow jumper the way Xavier Thames would.
When Butler comes off the screen, he is looking to attack. He is by far the most aggressive player on the team in the sense that he will not settle for a midrange jumper. He looks to attack the rim every chance he gets. That aggressive mindset will bode well as his skills develop.
Even though attacking the rim is his best offensive quality, he still has work to do. He struggles to finish at the rim. He has not yet learned how to shoot a high arcing layup. Rather he releases the ball with the intention of just barely getting it over the rim. It makes his layups easy to block.
Butler compensates by using a jump stop and upfake to let pursuing defenders blow by him. It works sometimes, but if a help defender comes it still leaves him having to shoot over a taller player, and just gives the defense more time to react to his penetration.
Lastly, Butler still has work to do in terms of reading the defense and knowing where the ball should go. Sometimes it is absolutely the right play to attack the rim. Other times a pull up jumper may be necessary. Often times the right play is to draw the defensive help and then kick out to an open shooter. Butler has flashed all these abilities, but has not been consistent with them.
Despite all the little flaws, Butler is arguably the best player on the team. He has a strong foundation with his defensive play and aggressive mindset. He is also a workhorse in the gym and a leader in the locker room. There is no doubt that he will, at the very least, return to his pre-injury offensive form next season.
His ceiling will be determined by how many of the little things he can shore up. Aiming for the top corner of the box on the backboard rather than the bottom corner would be a start. Hopefully the Aztecs can help his drive and kick game by giving him another shooter to kick to next season. As Butler adds those skills he’ll become one of the best point guards in the conference.