Jared Butler isn’t getting enough minutes. Well, kind of. It’s a bit more complicated than that, so let me explain.
This past Saturday, the Utah Jazz sat its all-star point guard, Mike Conley, for the first leg of the team’s back-to-back. No issues with that decision, this will be a season-long reality as the staff tries to manage Conley’s health leading up to a presumed playoff berth. Not even the fact Utah lost to the Bulls taints the decision. It’s one loss in a long 82-game marathon.
No, the problem lies in how head coach Quin Snyder decided to fill the roughly 30 minutes Conley usually takes up in the rotation. Specifically that it hardly involved Jared Butler at all. Joe Ingles was the obvious choice to start in place of Conley, but Butler saw the smallest bump in minutes from 6.8 per game (at the time) to just nine for the entirety of the Chicago game.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves, there’s a pretty good excuse to not play Butler main rotation minutes at the moment. One, he’s a rookie on a team playing at title contention. Two, his statistical output is, to put it mildly, lacking. Butler’s made just two shots in seven games. He’s got an Offensive Rating of just 51 and the fourth-worst Offensive Box Plus/Minus (-12.1) in the league among those with at least as many minutes as him.
There’s every reason to not trust the likes of a rookie who is very clearly not up to pace for NBA-level offenses yet. Except that, oxymoronically, Butler’s struggles now are a perfect reason he should be getting minutes. He needs to work through these early bumps now so they don’t hinder him later.
Should Butler be getting 15-plus minutes on a nightly basis? No, not unless he breaks out real quick. Should he be playing bigger minutes when either Conley or Mitchell sit? Hell yes.
By not playing Butler more against the Bulls, Snyder was trying to have his cake and eat it too. He wanted to get the benefit of resting Conley on a back-to-back but also go all-out to win the fifth game of an 82-game regular season. Sure, the goal is to win, but rest Conley just to play Joe Ingles extra minutes? And what about subbing out Butler for Trent Forrest in the fourth quarter? All of these decision don’t make sense when stacked next to each other.
There should be plenty of games this season where either Conley or Mitchell aren’t playing (they’ve missed a combined 88 games the last two seasons, it’s bound to come up again). These games are perfect opportunities to insert Butler into the lineup and let him learn, grow, and eventually excel.
As it is, there is at least one good reason to play Butler more right now: defense. The rookie has proven quite capable on the defensive end of the floor. His defensive RAPTOR rating of +4.7 is the best among rookies with at least 40 minutes played and is fourth-best on the Jazz.
This positive defensive impact can work really well for Butler in getting minutes if he’s say, playing alongside a flamethrower scorer like Jordan Clarkson (assuming Clarkson climbs out of his current slump). His lackluster offense can be hidden in units that have other great scorers while providing real value on the defensive end. This can give him time to catch on offensively, which seems likely to happen given the skills he showed off in college and the preseason.
The Jazz seemed pretty darn excited to draft Butler. based on insider sources to the comments from general manager Justin Zanik himself, Utah likely viewed Butler as at list a first-round talent, maybe as high as a mid-first round prospect who fell not because of his performance, but health issues they were willing to roll the dice on. So why not put some effort into developing this guy they were so stoked to wind up with?