2022 NBA Draft: Previewing Potential Second Rounder John Butler Jr.

Detroit Bad Boys

While we here at DBB did talk about Shaedon Sharpe being the mystery man of the 2022 NBA Draft, personally, I think that title goes to Florida State’s John Butler Jr. If you glance at his stats, you will be underwhelmed with his per-game averages of 5.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 0.7 assists. Butler does, however, have versatility and uniqueness in his overall profile similar to David Roddy (who we looked at last time), but he also has many more question marks in his game. Some might say these questions come from his uniqueness, starting with his size.

At the NBA Combine, Butler measured in at 7-foot-0.75, weighed 174.4 pounds, with a 7-foot-2.25 wingspan and a 9-foot-4 standing reach. So all you Chet doubters due to weight concerns, fire those doubts back up! And all of you who love #Length, get ready to drool! He did also play in the scrimmages there so he definitely did not back from the challenge.

If Butler’s measurements were enough to encompass his uniqueness and question marks all in one nicely packaged box, throw in Butler’s 3-point shooting and you get a better understanding that we are not dealing with your standard second-round prospect. This past season at Florida State, Butler shot 39.3% from long range on 2.7 attempts per game. While that may seem like a low amount of attempts, Butler’s three-point attempt rate was 50.6%, meaning just a little over half of his shots came from downtown.

Oh and did I also mention Butler is a freshman? So here we have a 19-year-old who is over 7 feet tall and shoots close to 40% from three—and he has one more enticing stat as he blocked 1.2 shots per game as well.

This profile is obviously hard to find a comp for and figure out a role as a second-round pick, so hang with me for a minute. The pitch is that this is a Cameron Johnson-LIKE forward. If you are unfamiliar with Cameron Johnson, he is a 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward for the Phoenix Suns who is a top-notch floor spacer and reserve (he even got some consideration for Sixth Man of the Year this past season). With that shooting percentage from three and his height and current weight, it is easy to see a team placing him in more of a backup stretch 4 role the way Phoenix does with Johnson.

One of the main reasons Johnson has been so successful in this role—shooting 39.0% from three in his three-year career so far—is that at his size it is incredibly hard to bother his shot. Now imagine if he were 4.75 inches taller. Johnson also has size and defensive limitations that his role as a backup and at the power forward spot helps to mitigate. Here he uses his IQ and team defensive skills to stay out of getting hunted one-on-one. Just glancing at his playoff stats the past two years shows how much he has helped Phoenix get to its current state of title contenders the past two seasons.

I am sure at this point, however, the size concerns still loom since Johnson is still thought of as “undersized” and Butler is 36 pounds lighter. While, yes, this is most likely the BIGGEST concern for Butler, let’s take a look at some positive film from the past season against Duke to get an idea how concerned we ought to be:

Notice the clutch defense and block on Paolo and Wendell Moore in the clutch! And defensively, he is matched up with Paolo and Wendell Moore most of the game and does a good job moving his feet and using his length to bother both guys. Butler even gets switched on to Mark Williams here and there, but you do not see him getting taken advantage of. I was most surprised by the fact that Paolo didn’t just run him over since they were matched up against each other a lot.

One of the more impressive moments in this game for me is when Mark Williams closes out hard on Butler and gets a hand in his face, yet Butler still drills it. Williams is one of the few guys with the height and length to legitimately give Butler problems when shooting as Mark measured in at seven-foot two-inches tall with a seven-foot six-and-a-half inch wingspan and nine-foot nine-inch standing reach. So this is at least a sliver of an indication Butler will not be bothered by NBA length.

Butler shot-blocking is not on full display here, but you get glimpses of it for sure. And while I make the Cam Johnson pitch, it also doesn’t do justice to Butler’s defensive potential. As Coach Spins of the Box-and-One YouTube Channel so rightly points out, Butler has an “unorthodox combination of length, quickness, and shot-blocking.” I also agree with Coach Spins that the shot block potential is NOT as a center, but as a forward who covers the weakside. And this is not to sell Butler short as he really turned this aspect of his game on in the final eight games of the season averaging 2.4 blocks per game.

Defensively, Butler reminds me more of former Piston and shot-blocking specialist John Henson. And before you diss on Henson, this is a guy that played 9 years in the league who averaged 1.4 blocks per game in that time span. Henson did not do enough big-man things like rebound and set top-notch screens for his teammates—similar to some of the deficiencies Butler has. The good news is Butler is a MUCH better athlete when it comes to lateral agility and hip flexibility than Henson ever could dream to be so it is highly unlikely Butler is stuck at center.

So, my Butler pitch would be the size and shooting combination of Cameron Johnson along with the shot-blocking of John Henson WITH more switch-ability at both forward spots! I realize many of you may be squinting and scratching your head over this combo-comp, BUT I would just end it by re-emphasizing Butler is an incredibly unique prospect with a combination of size and skills very few possess. And it is worth getting this 19-year-old into your developmental system immediately and helping him develop these skills to reach his full potential. Potential he flashed in full against Blake Wesley and Notre Dame late in the season as well if you want further evidence.

But the size is also part of the downside that has to be addressed. You don’t see guys this string bean skinny roaming NBA floors nightly so Butler WILL have to bulk up as centers league-wide will be licking their chops when they see him. You also CANNOT play this guy at center so anyone who does not buy into Butler’s movement skills and athleticism to be a combo forward is definitely going to pass this guy by. He also IS NOT POKU. I’m sure people will see the body type and occasional times Butler brings the ball up the court, but he DEFINITELY does not have the handle and court vision that makes Poku his own unique slenderman.

What he does other than shoot threes will have to be answered…eventually. There were times when Butler shot under 40% on his two-point shots this season, but I think as a shooting specialist that is something he will have to develop as a team runs him through the G League and spot time in the big time. No one asked about Duncan Robinson’s two-point game until after they saw he was a lethal sniper. No one cares Bryn Forbes hardly ever takes a shot inside the three-point line. And fellow tall shooter Davis Bertans’s entire worth as a player comes from his ability to ONLY SHOOT THREES. Eventually shooters have to do something else…eventually…but no one seems to care when they keep shooting it well because of how much their shooting causes mismatch problems, also, so keep that in mind.

Shot Chart for John Butler Jr.’s 2021-22 Season at Florida State courtesy of CBB Analytics
https://cbbanalytics.com/stats/30629/players/1689833/shooting

BUT perhaps Butler’s shooting is a mirage. He did only take 84 attempts all season. More worrisome is that his free-throw percentage was 44.0%. The only player I have ever seen consistently have a terrible free-throw percentage who was a good three-point shooter was Bruce Bowen so this is not a good point in the scouting profile for Mr. Butler.

HOWEVER, this 44.0% only came on 25 attempts at the line. To put into perspective how FEW attempts this was for the entire season, both Paolo Banchero and Johnny Davis surpassed 25 attempts from the charity stripe within the first six games of the season. Twenty-five attempts is a TINY sample size and Butler had 18 games where he did not attempt a single free throw.

This does circle back to the “he has to do something other than shoot 3s” criticism, though. Butler is an incredibly limited player offensively that you see get lost on offense at times on film. He did only score in double figures just FIVE times this season to give you evidence of how much Butler still has to develop on offense.

Defensively, he does communicate well and lined up his teammates as the season wore on showing good awareness and IQ. It’s almost the exact opposite on offense. Running into teammates off-ball, not spacing himself out far enough from teammates to give adequate spacing, send easily picked-off passes. Butler will have to spend a season or two in the G-League to figure out how to play his role on offense while also working on his body.

Normally you don’t see this variety of skills and potential outcomes in second-round prospects, which is why I would argue for Butler to be taken if he remains on the board at 46. Even if Butler ends up being only a tall shooter like the aforementioned former 42nd overall pick Davis Bertans, this is still an incredibly valuable NBA player. And if he is able to develop a more well-rounded offensive game like Cameron Johnson while throwing in some John Henson shot-blocking, then that sounds like a great rotational piece that would pair nicely alongside Isaiah Stewart on defense and give more space to the MotorCade on offense.

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