Rasual Butler in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Rasual Butler in the Old/New Year — A Wizards Preview Series

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Updated: October 5, 2015

[TAI’s preview/review series on the Wizards going forward with a look-back on those who graced the team in the past season continues. First up was Kevin Seraphin; then Paul Pierce; then Alan Anderson; then Otto Porter; then Kris Humphries. Now: Rasual Butler, by Conor Dirks. Read on…]

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When Rasual Butler joined the Wizards for training camp prior to the 2014-2015 season, he was scrapping for an NBA job for the third year in a row. After being cut by the Raptors following the 2011-12 season, spending a year out of the league, and then landing a meager rotation role with the Indiana Pacers, Butler printed a new copy of his resume and hit the training camp circuit with the Washington Wizards as a 35-year-old. And Butler was impressive among the pups of summer. Impressive enough that noted old-dude lover Randy Wittman and second-round pick slangin’ Ernie Grunfeld made Butler the final preseason addition to Washington’s roster.

Why Rasual? The Wizards were reeling from losing one of the most dependable 3-point shooters on the team, Trevor Ariza, and uncertain whether Paul Pierce’s game was suited to volume 3-point shooting. Otto Porter’s sample size after his rookie year was even smaller than his impact, and Martell Webster’s offseason back surgery only threw his value further into doubt after a poor end to the 2013-14 season. The team needed shooters, and Butler, despite his age, fit the bill.

Teams benefit from the presence of seasoned, scarred veterans, even if it’s easy to discount on-court value. And the Wizards have become better at finding the right kind of locker room voice, somewhere between corporate professionalism and the wonky candor of the previous Wizards era. Players like Al Harrington, Drew Gooden, Pierce and Webster have supplemented John Wall’s emerging voice well as he saunters into the spotlight.

But Butler’s contributions last season weren’t necessarily those of the typical aging veteran. When the season started and Bradley Beal’s injury kept him out of the lineup, Butler was one of the major recipients of those newly liberated minutes. So fuck all that stuff I said about locker room voices and elevating the discourse: the winter of 2014 belonged to Rasual Butler, basketball player.

In November, Wittman deployed Butler, end-of-the-bench guy and recent signee, for 17 minutes a game. All Butler did was shoot 58.6 percent from the floor and a cool 55.2 percent on 3-pointers (compared to career numbers of 40.2 and 36.3, respectively). The eye test was even more fun, as Butler’s run of big shots was one of Wall’s more reliable tools during Washington’s 19-6 start to the season. As November turned to December, Butler’s minutes increased to 26.4 per game, his shot attempts almost doubled, and though his percentages took a little dip from November’s plenty (47.6% overall, 46.9% on 3-pointers), Butler felt like Washington’s second-best option at both the 2 and the 3 behind Bradley Beal and Paul Pierce. It was, essentially, unreal. And essentially so.

Butler’s best lineup on the season was one featuring Wall, Otto Porter, Kris Humphries, and Marcin Gortat. That five-man unit played 41 minutes together and was bonkers defensively, allowing 85.1 points per 100 possessions while putting up 127.8 points per 100 possessions. It won’t surprise people familiar with Wall’s impact on the game, but every lineup Butler played with that also featured Wall was a net positive. But when Beal returned to the lineup, and more and more of Butler’s minutes came with Andre Miller (or later, Ramon Sessions), the opportunities and space for Butler to hit shots waned.

And then, of course, any discussion of Rasual also became about Otto Porter. Beal’s return meant a more zero-sum approach to minutes distribution between Butler and Porter. In December, Butler played twelve minutes more than Porter per game. Whether this was the right lineup decision (it was, until it wasn’t) didn’t matter as much as the conceptual tragedy, to some. But knowing what we know now, that Butler’s legs eventually gave out and Porter’s confidence eventually ballooned, it’s worth remembering the two months that Butler spent holding off the grim, mossy creep of time.

The rest of the season for Rasual? Well, it went to shit, mostly, and it went to shit as the team started looking average, uncreative and frustratingly ponderous. And suddenly, the kudos that the Wizards slathered themselves in for punting on the entire 2014 draft (the first-round pick went to Phoenix in the Gortat trade, and the second-round pick went to the Lakers for some Tap-the-Rockies cold cash money) felt more like bathing in warm Ensure. The fact that Butler’s drop-off was likely (or inevitable, if you want to be cute) complicates the equation when viewing Butler’s season as a whole.

But that’s unfair. It is definitively not Rasual Butler’s fault that the Wizards sold off the second-round pick that became All-Rookie First Teamer Jordan Clarkson to maintain space on the roster that he temporarily filled. And more importantly, Butler performed well early in the season, a span that ended up sustaining the Wizards through stretches that included back-to-back losses to Philadelphia and Minnesota. Butler had a high-demand skill (3-point shooting) in an offense suddenly without a real 3-point threat, and was smart enough to find his spots regardless of his lack of familiarity with Wall, Wittman or the Wizards offense.

And now that Butler is in training camp with the Spurs, he’ll be enshrined in the secret vault of Wizards lore, accessible only via password in the collective unconscious.

Best Moment

This is easy. The best moment of the season was when Rasual Butler dunked on the Knicks with 4.4 seconds left in a game the Wizards won by 14 points. This was the best for a few reasons. First, it provided everyone in the D.C. area with discounted pizza. Second, and more importantly, it really pissed off Frank Isola, Derek Fisher, and others who were very mad about sports. Isola was even mad online.

Of course, what followed was an orbital strike of pizza memes, reducing Isola’s Twitter account to little more than a mound of rubble and smoldering limo stories. A proud moment.

Butler, for his part, didn’t seem to be in on the gag. When he was told about Fisher’s anger at his last-second dunk, Butler said:

“That’s my guy, I have a good relationship with him. I definitely wasn’t trying to show them up, I’m not that type of person, I do apologize for that. But they were trapping, and I just kind of got caught up into the play. I thought about it afterwards and it wasn’t the classiest thing to do so my apologies out to him and his team and the fans, because you gotta dribble that one out. We have a relationship beyond basketball, we’ve grown close over the years, so he knows my character and he knows I’m really not that type of guy.”

As my colleague Rashad Mobley summarized:

“Rasual took the high road and is all class as usual. But given Fisher’s post-game comments and Knicks forward Quincy Acy’s history with the Wizards back on Christmas Day, one has to wonder if a rivalry, or at least a healthy disdain, is stirring. Or perhaps this is just a reminder that the playoffs need to hurry up and arrive. Either way, any time the never-ending angst of Frank Isola can be worked into a TAI article, it is indeed a good night.”

Worst Moment

I promised I’d never speak of this again, but you seem nice.

The box score was ugly during Washington’s 127-89 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 20, 2015. The loss officially pushed the Cavs a half-game past the Wizards in the standings. The entire affair reeked of resignation. Chief among those resigned to their fate was Butler, whose feet moved at dial-up speed as he tried to guard LeBron James. In the midst of an extended shooting slump, Butler also went 1-for-6 from the field and compiled an impressively unimpressive minus-30 in plus/minus differential. It was one of the worst moments of Butler’s campaign, and one of the worst moments of the Wizards season.

Runner up: the first game of the year, wherein Miami’s James Innis almost ended Butler’s season before it began.

Curious Stat

Butler may be on the last leg of the Oregon Trail, but he was able to mask the inevitability of career dysentery by cleverly limiting his mileage. More than any other player on the team (save Otto Porter), Butler’s baskets were assisted by another member of the team. In total, 79 percent of Butler’s makes were assisted, per 82games.com, which was a huge leap from the previous year in Indiana, where only 65 percent of his makes were assisted. Breaking it down even further, 88 percent of Butler’s jump shots were assisted. All these catch-and-shoot attempts meant less contact with opposing defenders, and less wear-and-tear on Butler’s wagon wheels.

If Rasual Butler were a type of food or an entire meal of food, he would be…

A genetically modified tomato with unnaturally durable skin that falls out of the back of a truck and bounces resolutely to the HOV lane.

 

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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.