Why the Celtics Should Pass on Jimmy Butler

Source: David Butler II - USA Today Sports 

The Chicago Bulls have stated that they’re listening to offers for Jimmy Butler, and after reportedly making an offer for him around the trade deadline, the Celtics and their deep dish of assets are expected to be among the teams that would be interested. These two teams were unable to make a deal after Ainge tried to pry Butler from Chicago at the deadline, offering draft picks and bench players for the two-time All-Star. During an offseason where the Celtics have “big plans”, players like Butler becoming available is big news. However, I think that if the Celtics are going to put their assets to work, it should be for major upgrades above all else. Butler is an elite talent on both ends of the floor, but I don’t think he improves this particular roster as much as people might think. Here’s why:

Jae Crowder fills the role quite well. Both Butler and Crowder have the background of being late draft picks out of Marquette to go straight to an NBA bench, where they initially didn’t do much. Look at this quick comparison of each player’s career:

Source: stats from basketball-reference.com

Across the table you’ll notice that Butler has an advantage in most categories when looking recent years, which makes sense as he has a higher usage rate (24.4% to Crowder’s 18.5%) this season, about five more minutes played per game, and has started 105 more games in his career. I strongly dislike using per-36 numbers as a way to exhibit a player’s abilities, but I think it’s appropriate here as Butler played 36.9 minutes per game last season while Crowder played 31.6. Here’s Jae’s per-36:

Source: stats from basketball-reference.com
No outstanding differences, but possibly a more accurate representation of what Crowder could have done with Butler’s minutes. Butler is considered an elite scorer, but based on this comparison, he only scores about four more points per game on 2.7 more attempts. In any comparison, their shooting percentages, steals per game, blocks, and rebounding averages are remarkably close.

The only way Butler stands out from Crowder is with his 4.8 assists per game last season, and his high usage rate as mentioned before. There is a reason Butler is considered an elite scorer other than his ability to score 20 or more per game, however. Butler can be fed the ball anywhere on the court and knock down jumpers, as seen here:

Source: shot charts from vorped.com

Whether or not this truly makes Butler a better scorer than Crowder is up to debate. While Butler can score from more spots, Crowder’s superior 3-pt. shooting nets him a higher eFG%.

Butler is considered to be one of the best defenders at his position today, and I won’t try to prove that his defense is over rated, but I will say that Crowder is an exceptional defender in his own right. This sequence against Indiana happens to be my favorite Celtics highlight from this season, and I think it shows Crowder’s defensive prowess pretty well:

 

 

Crowder led the league in steals for a few months and ended the season at 14th overall in steals per game (1.73) with Butler just behind him at 18th (1.64). At 6’7”, 220 lbs Butler is the kind of defender who can guard multiple positions, but at 6’6”, 235 lbs, Crowder is just as physically capable of holding his own against multiple positions as well.

Adding Jimmy Buckets would likely be an improvement to the roster in the short term, but when you look at Crowder’s year to year improvements, we don’t have much reason to think it would be a big upgrade in the long term. A low-ball trade offer from Ainge is worth a shot again as the Bulls might have to go full fire-sale mode after missing the playoffs with an injury-ridden roster and a young coach, but that’s as far as he should go. Crowder’s numbers might not ever reach what Butler’s are, and that’s OK. He’s as good of a go-to guy in the 4th quarter as anybody, and if the Celtics do land the coveted superstar they really want, Crowder will never have to carry the same load Butler does with Chicago.


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