2012-2013 Clipper Player Previews: Caron Butler

Spruce Derden-US PRESSWIRE

For three weeks this preseason, we'll be publishing Player Previews for each of the 15 players currently under contract with the Clippers. In some cases there may not be much difference from last season's Exit Interviews, but the team does have seven new faces, and there were some significant developments over the off-season for some of the returning players as well, so let's get caught up with all of them before the season starts. Today's edition, starting small forward Caron Butler, a former All Star.

Caron Butler career stats (10 seasons)

PPG

RPG

APG

MPG

PER

16.1

5.7

2.7

35.6

15.9

Is it my imagination, or is Caron Butler about the least discussed member of this year's Los Angeles Clippers team? The are seven new faces, so naturally those guys are going to be analyzed and dissected. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are mega-stars. DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are young players showing signs of reaching their massive potential. Chauncey Billups is attempting to return from a ruptured Achilles. Which means that among the rotation players, Butler is easy to overlook. The other night in Utah when Griffin and others rested, I was making a mental note of the players the team was missing. Of course I forgot about Butler, who was among the players taking the night off.

This is a guy who has averaged 16 points in a 10 year NBA career, who has twice been an All Star, who averaged nearly 21 points per game 08-09, and who played with a broken hand in last year's playoffs to help the Clippers win their first round series against Memphis. How is this the forgotten man?

Butler joined the Clippers on the first day of the free agency frenzy that followed the NBA lockout last December. He was a huge signing at the time, one of the biggest free agents to ever choose the Clippers, and a long-sought starting small forward for the team. Not just someone to start, but an actual starter-quality player. But even then his presence was almost immediately overshadowed by the arrivals of Billups and Paul. The truth is, statistically-speaking, Butler had one of his worst seasons in his first year in L.A. His PER of 11.7 was well below his career average and the second lowest of his career. He barely shot ever 40% from the field. He rebounded and assisted at career low levels. And you know what? He was great.

Because numbers don't tell the whole story. When Caron was making All Star teams in Washington he was asked to do a lot. He was part of a "big three" with the Wizards which injuries frequently reduced to two or even just himself. So he had the ball a lot, he had to take shots, he had to make plays. Playing with Paul and Griffin in L.A. Butler has become a complementary player, and he has adapted very well. He was steady and reliable all season, hitting open shots, playing solid defense, making a consistent contribution game in and game out, and he was a consummate pro throughout.

Good thing too, because the Clippers' depth chart at small forward last season had depth in name only. Playing behind Butler for most of the season were Ryan Gomes and Bobby Simmons, two players who are likely now retired from the NBA, though not by choice. Later when Nick Young joined the team he played a lot of three, but there were times when Young (more guard than forward) was not appropriate on the wing. Butler was vital to the Clippers last season because he was all they had. In baseball, players are frequently measured by their VORP, value over replacement player. The idea is to look at how much they bring over and above the average contribution you might expect -- well, Butler's value over the Clippers specific replacements last year was massive, partly because the replacements were so awful.

So far this preseason Butler has looked as solid as ever. He's shooting the ball well and looks smooth and comfortable on the floor. He's also in better shape this season. He reported to camp last season at 237; this season he reported at 224, and he's trying to get down to 220. Playing lighter should help with his quickness while at the same time prolonging his career by reducing the wear and tear on his 32 year old body (which has suffered its share of injuries).

It's conceivable that both more and less could be asked of Butler this season as compared to last. Last season he was third on the team in three pointers made, hitting 36% from deep, well above his career three point percentage. But the Clippers top two three point shooters, Randy Foye and Mo Williams, are both gone and the team will be desperate for deep shooting to stretch the floor and keep defenses honest. At the same time, the situation behind Butler on the Clippers bench is entirely different. Among the newcomers to the team are Grant Hill and Matt Barnes, who are both very capable NBA small forwards, not to mention Jamal Crawford who can play the wing when Vinny Del Negro decides to go small. This team has significantly more flexibility at the three spot than last season's team did, and you can probably expect Butler's minutes to decrease at least some.

Butler is 32 years old and is under contract through next season at $8M per year. He's one of four Clippers with championship rings (though he was hurt when Dallas won the title) and is among a host of solid citizens keeping the Clippers locker room focused and ready. He may not be the most visible member of this Clippers team, but if he can hit shots (particularly threes), play defense, limit mistakes and be a steadying influence, he'll show up where it counts -- in the win column.

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