For San Antonio Spurs forward Da’Sean Butler, the biggest improvement he could make over the off-season would be to restore himself to full health. After the horrific knee injury he sustained in the NCAA tournament against Duke on April 3, 2010, Butler remains an unknown as to what his potential can be in the Association.
Butler is a 23-year-old, 6’7, 230lbs shooting guard-small forward from the University of West Virginia. He had the most wins in school history – 107. As a senior, he averaged 17.2 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, and 3.1 assists. He was drafted 42 by the Miami Heat in 2010. After he was unable to effectively make the squad, the Heat cut him on October 25, 2010.
Butler wondered if any NBA teams would give him a chance to prove himself once he was healthy? The call came from the number one team in the league – at the time - the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs signed Butler on March 25, 2011 and immediately sent him to Austin to continue his rehabilitation with the Austin Toros.
Guillet asked Butler what it was like to be called upon by the Spurs?
His feelings were, “joy.” “It was good to see another team actually wanted me,” said Butler.
Guillet asked Butler what he could bring to the squad, “youth and younger legs,” Butler told her. Her last question was whether or not his knee could hold up in the NBA, Butler simply responded, “I have no idea?”
Butler never played a minute in Austin, nor did he ever get a lick of playing time through the remainder of the 2011 Spurs season. After the Spurs were sent home in six games of the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies, Joe Alexander of the San Antonio Express News caught up with Butler.
Butler first told Alexander of his motivation to make it in the NBA,
“I love to play basketball, and I love to prove people wrong,” Butler said. “This is something I’ve been praying and leading to do during the last year. I’m close now.”
He then filled Alexander in on how he first approached rehabbing his injured knee,
“Early on, I was really rushing,” Butler said. “I just wanted everybody to know that I would be fine and not let this injury slow me down.”
“I was treating it like an ankle sprain, and that’s definitely not the case,” Butler said.
Alexander wrote that coach Gregg Popovich was still unaware of what Butler could bring to the squad next season,
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich still hasn’t seen much of Butler’s on-court skills since his arrival.
“I have no idea,” Popovich said. “You can’t even tell if he’s a player or not. He’s out there running around pylons.
“Everybody just tells me he looked good in the tournament. But they also tell me he’s X number of pounds heavier than he was in the tournament. So I won’t even have an impression of him until camp comes.”
Lastly, Butler expressed to Alexander that he is optimistic about the off-season and the second chance he has been given with the Spurs,
“It feels like it’s been an extremely long, long year for me,” Butler said. “But it’s a big opportunity to get a chance with an organization like this one. This is a great second chance and a great place for me.”
I’ll admit, I’m not as in-tuned with college hoops until the tournament begins during spring break. The only footage of Butler I ever saw were his games in the tournament. To really get a feel of how much potential Butler could bring to the Spurs, I went out and got the help from a writer that covered Butler during his collegiate career at West Virginia. I asked Caleb Wygal of The SmokingMusket.com, your number one site for all things Mountaineers, to answer a few questions about Butler and what parts of his game he could potentially bring to the Spurs.
Paul: Assuming Butler can fully recover, what kind of player comparison do you see of him in the NBA?
Caleb: If Butler can fully recover, I always thought his game was similar to that of a Dwayne Wade but in Sasha Pavlovic’s body (who Butler was compared to physically before the 2010 NBA Draft). Butler is a leader on and off the court who thrived in pressure situations as evidenced by his six game-winning baskets during his Senior season at WVU. He has a high basketball IQ on offense and defense. He shoots well from all over the court, has a good post-up game (especially against smaller defenders), is a solid defender (more on this below), and his court vision allows him to be a great passer as well. He was also second on the team in rebounding his Senior season.
He was known for being a gymrat at WVU, and that being said, I don’t see Butler ever having the physical attributes that a Dwayne Wade has, but Butler has a nice all-around style game similar to that of D-Wade.
Paul: The Spurs are a run-n-gun small ball team, how do you feel this will affect Butler on offense?
Caleb: Butler should fit in very well to this style. I imagine this was one of the things that the Spurs liked about Butler before they signed him. He could get up and down the court when he was needed to at WVU, although that wasn’t called for much in Bob Huggins’ style of offense. Like I said above, Butler can shoot it from all over the court and was great at getting to the basket. He also moves well without the ball to get himself open, and because he can pass almost as well as he can score, he’ll be able to get the ball to the open man.
Paul: Assuming he returns to full health, what is Butler’s ceiling offensively/defensively with the Spurs?
Caleb: What will help Butler stick around in the NBA, and be a key contributor for the Spurs, would be to work on his outside shot and becoming a lockdown defender. One of Bob Huggins’ tenets was that you play defense, or you don’t play (see: Deniz Kilicli). Under Huggins, Butler was able to expand on his defensive game to the point that he could be relied upon to guard the other team’s best guard or small forward (although Devin Ebanks was the teams primary defender of multiple positions).
On offense, Butler’s ability to get to the basket, shooting prowess, and post-up ability could allow him to be a key contributor off the bench for a few years before conceivably moving into a starting role. Something the Spurs could use him for on offense would be to give opponents match-up problems if Butler is able to post-up on smaller players. Defensively, if Butler is able to improve his lateral speed on defense, the Spurs could count on Butler to effectively guard most players similar to his size (6’7″ 205) in the NBA.
After reading what Wygal feels Butler could bring to the Spurs, it makes you hope that Butler can play at 100% and stay injury free. I feel he has a real chance at cracking the rotation alongside James Anderson. In the event of a lockout, I think it would benefit Butler because he can spend time in Austin; learning the Spurs’ system with the Toros, while also building his NBA-game against players in the D-league. Then, when the lockout ends, he can come up to the Spurs and try to make it into the rotation.
If there isn’t a lockout, I feel he still has a chance to make the rotation if Richard Jefferson continues to struggle. Should Jefferson struggle from the get-go, there’s a possibility Anderson can nab the starting SF role and have Butler as his backup. This would provide younger bodies on the wing and also two possible (potential-building) defensive wing players. Imagine teams trying to score on a George Hill-Anderson-Butler perimeter if all three can grow into becoming solid defenders?
Of course, the prospect of Butler is whether or not he can become the player he was (healthy) in Morgantown. He is a gamble, but a safe gamble that the Spurs have made in signing him. He can have two routes next season, the Blake Griffin (return to full health and have a stellar season) or the Yao Ming (return, but have injuries nag you for the rest of your career) routes.
The future is unknown for Butler and the Spurs organization, it’ll all hinge on one ligament, the left knee.
(Photos: NYDailynews.com, SlamOnline.com)