On the second day of the Utah Jazz’s 2021 training camp, rookie Jared Butler likened the experience to one that many people can relate to. 

“It’s kind of like a first date,” he said. “I don’t know you, you don’t know me.”

It’s not a bad comparison. There are butterflies and excitement and thoughts of what could be. Conversations are probably a little forced at first, but once everyone gets comfortable things start to flow a little easier.

If training camp was the first date, the preseason was the honeymoon phase of the relationship.

On draft night the Jazz celebrated, jumping up and down, hooting and hollering when Butler, a prospect that they had ranked as a low lottery player, fell to the second round and they were able to get him with the 40th pick.

Coming off a national championship with the Baylor Bears, Butler is familiar with winning, with being the go-to guy, with doing everything right on both ends of the floor.

Butler didn’t play Summer League ball so his first real run with the Jazz came on Oct. 4 against the San Antonio Spurs, the first of the Jazz’s four-game preseason slate. Simply put, he shined.

There’s rarely ever anything in basketball that is perfect, and that’s true of Butler’s performance, but the things that Butler did on an NBA court against NBA talent, in his very first NBA outing, was impressive by any standard.

He shook players off with double crossovers, snaked past screens to open up scoring lanes, made good passes to open shooters, shot the ball with the range he showed in college and looked confident at every point.

“He’s got a lot of the traits that you would look for in a young point guard and that you want to see.” —Jazz guard Mike Conley on Jared Butler

That continued through the rest of the preseason, in which Butler led all rookies averaging 18 points per game, continued to show off his skills on both sides of the floor and had many wondering if he deserved a spot in the Jazz’s regular rotation.

The excitement is understandable. Butler seems like the most dynamic and gifted draft pick the Jazz have had since Donovan Mitchell. There’s a ton of potential and a ton of promise, but his game isn’t flawless.

Throughout the preseason Butler committed errors that are classic rookie mistakes. Some of the defensive gambles he was able take at the collegiate level earned him foul calls on an NBA court. On offense he tends to lean toward attacking and attacking hard, which is fine right now, but the Jazz want him to realize the weapons that are at his sides and to playmake more.

Additionally, when he’s attacking, he was strong enough to get away with going straight to the rim in college. In the NBA, he can’t just score through the trees and needs to develop ways to counter the defense.

These are all things that will come with time and will just take some developing and getting use to the game at the professional level. The game is faster, possessions are shorter, and every player is bigger, stronger and more skilled.

“He reminds me a lot of myself,” Mitchell said. “Just wanting to attack all the time.”

There are certainly worse things in the world than reminding Mitchell of himself as a rookie. But Butler’s journey is not going to be like Mitchell’s.

A different path

When Mitchell was drafted there was a lack of depth at his position and there was a place available for him in the rotation almost immediately. He was on a fast track to becoming a go-to scorer and had the tools to be able to take on that responsibility. Mitchell thinks often about what his NBA life would have been like if there were two or more players ahead of him at his position.

Whether Butler has those same tools is not part of the equation. The Jazz are built with experience and depth and while that might mean a slower growth trajectory for Butler, there are benefits.

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Butler comes into a team where he is able to learn on a daily basis from Mitchell, one of the most dynamic scorers and impressive young stars in the league, and Mike Conley, one of the most well-respected and consistent point guards in the game.

“He’s got a lot of the traits that you would look for in a young point guard and that you want to see,” Conley said. “Coming in as a young guy, he’s going to have a lot on his plate and when he gets out there he’s going to have a thousand things on his mind. ... But he seems like he’s the kind of guy who is ready to take on that type of responsibility.”

Because of that experience in the lineup ahead of him, Butler, as well as the fans, will need to be patient. The Jazz are going to bring him along at a pace that makes sense for the team.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder has said that while the rotation is going to be hard to crack for anyone new, there will be opportunities for Butler this season. More than anything, Snyder is hoping to guide Butler through a transition that has already been maybe a little extra hyped because of his preseason success.

“I think one of the things that Jared is dealing with is that every day I get more Jared Butler questions than I do Rudy Gobert questions,” Snyder said. “We do talk about Jared needing to practice patience, but I would argue that’s something we all need to practice.” 

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This first NBA season for Butler is going to be the next phase in this new relationship, and it’ll be about getting to know the nuances, quirks, strengths and weaknesses of each other. There will be hurdles and situations that require learning and understanding, but if everyone puts in the work, there’s no reason this can’t end in happiness. More than anything, Butler’s focus needs to be on improving, in every aspect that he can.

“Getting better, a lot of times, involves making mistakes,” Snyder said. “Understanding that and having patience with yourself and knowing that it’s not always going to be perfect is an adjustment for every player.”

The right attitude

Butler is about to experience life in basketball in a way that’s completely different from what he is used to. As with any relationship, trust and patience are going to be key, but having the right attitude is also going to be critical to Butler’s success.

Utah Jazz’s Jared Butler dribbles the ball during preseason game against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021. | Michael Ainsworth, Associated Press

When Mitchell noticed that Butler was driving into too much traffic and trying to finish at the rim defenders, he made note of it and said as much to Butler and to reporters.

Butler said that while there were going to be adjustments across the board that he would have to make, he was confident that it wouldn’t take him much time and promised that he was willing to put in the work.

“It just depends on the type of person you are,” Butler said. “Can you handle criticism? Can you hear what he’s saying and then actually visualize it and then replicate it on the court. I’m a fairly fast learner and when Donovan tells me something, I’m like, ‘Alright bet.’ If it works for him it can work for me.”

In his short time with the Jazz, Butler has already proven to be someone who is ready to take on all the advice and wisdom available to him, and his curiosity is going to help him on his path to improvement.

“He reminds me a lot of myself. Just wanting to attack all the time.” — Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell on Jared Butler

That’s not always the case. Rookies, especially highly touted rookies who have had major success leading up to their NBA careers, sometimes come in thinking they already have everything figured out.

“I’ve run across a handful of guys who come in the league and think they know it all already,” Conley said. “They don’t want to be rookies, they want to be the star. It’s just a process and sometimes it takes longer for certain people. But you can still feel confident and still have that edge while still be willing to ask questions and be willing to learn and be willing to be a rookie.”

Butler is not a player with an unnecessary ego. He shows up early, he stays late, he asks questions, he allows Mitchell, Conley, Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gay and everyone else on the Jazz roster to point out things to him, to offer criticism.

As far as rookies go, all reports suggest that Butler has come to the Jazz willing to take whatever role is given to him.

That doesn’t mean his competitive spirit is lost. He goes into every workout, every practice and will approach every game wanting to prove to the coaching staff why he deserves a spot in the rotation. And that’s exactly what the Jazz want from him.

The Jazz want him to be ready at any moment because basketball is unpredictable and an opportunity could present itself sooner than planned. But in the end, they don’t want expectations to rule the day. They want for Butler to be willing to make mistakes, to focus his energy on soaking up everything he can.

Practicing patience might be a difficult thing to do and it might not always feel great, but in the end it can make for a long-lasting relationship in which all parties thrive. That’s what the Jazz and Butler are aiming for.