With the 40th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, the Utah Jazz had Jared Butler, a six-foot-three guard from Baylor, fall into their lap. Butler, originally projected as an early first round pick, suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a heart disease he was diagnosed with about three years ago. Although medically cleared to play and fresh off of a NCAA championship, Butler dropped heavily in the draft due to fears about his future health.
Fortunately, this season, Butler has experienced good health with the Jazz. After a promising preseason where he averaged 18 points, 4.3 assists, and 1.3 rebounds, many thought that he’d find semi-regular minutes with the Jazz this year. Prior to the first game of the regular season, Butler had felt confident about receiving playing time, stating, “I know I’m going to get minutes tonight. I don’t know how many.” Clearly, at the beginning of the season, there existed a level of confidence, both in the Utah Jazz and Jared Butler, that a spattering of playing time throughout the year should be expected. Yet a third of the way through the 2021-22 season, Butler sits outside of Utah’s rotation, only seeing minutes as a part of the Salt Lake City Stars. Why is that?
In all fairness, it isn’t without reason. In the minutes Butler has played, his performances haven’t dropped any jaws. Against NBA level rotation players, Butler seemed out of place on defense and couldn’t get a bucket to drop on offense; he was a little shell-shocked. This, eventually, led to his assignment to the Salt Lake City Stars. There, in thirty minutes a night, Butler has averaged 21.4 points, 6.8 assists, and 4.8 rebounds. While he hasn’t shot the ball particularly well, the five games he’s played for the Stars have been valuable; he’s experienced real playing time against fringe-NBA players. The competition in the G-League isn’t soft by any measure and I think sending him there was the right idea. Still, in taking a look at the last few games where Donovan Mitchell has sat out due to injury and Trent Forrest has received extended minutes, I think it’s time to give Butler some playing time in the big league.
The case for playing Trent Forrest over Jared Butler is simple: Forrest hold a few NBA ready skills and plays better defense. The minutes Butler would receive are by-in-large marginal and it would be best if he incubated in the G-League while the better defender received the NBA minutes. I disagree with this.
Over the last two games, Forrest played 37 minutes. He totaled 4 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds, and a Plus-Minus of minus-2. He averaged a game score of 1.4, shot 33% from the field, and wasn’t able to space the floor. In looking at his season as a whole, Forrest has averaged a Box Plus/Minus of -3.0, a Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 0.7, and nearly as many turnovers (13) as assists (20). The purpose for showing these statistics isn’t to knock Forrest as an NBA player; I actually believe that he could play real minutes in this league, given the right opportunity. Instead, it’s to show that the “win now” argument for why Butler shouldn’t play doesn’t hold water. Both from a system and individual perspective, it makes sense for the Jazz to play Butler. He better fits Quin Snyder’s offensive scheme, can handle the ball just as well as Forrest, and will certainly take something away from each stint he plays in the NBA.
Given that Butler has only played five games for Stars, I don’t see why, on nights where one of Utah’s guards are resting or out, Butler shouldn’t have the opportunity to both see and feel NBA level play. I’m afraid that, in the G-League, Butler will develop as a primary ball handler with high usage and high shooting volume. The Jazz need Butler to turn into a secondary ball handler who spaces the floor and can create for himself when needed. While Trent Forrest is a serviceable backup guard in the NBA, the minutes he plays don’t typically have a significant impact, positive or negative, on the outcome of a game. Since those minutes are low-risk and low-impact, they’d be better served if given to Jared Butler. Although he’ll surly experience growing pains, Butler is one of the only young players on Utah’s roster with real promise and I believe that he should be given the opportunity to learn, even in a season where the end goal is a Larry O’Brian Trophy.
All statistics sourced from basketball-reference.com.