The Utah Jazz entered Thursday night with the 30th pick in the NBA draft, but intel received by the front office indicated that the player they wanted, Baylor junior guard Jared Butler, would be available later in the evening.
So the Jazz traded the No. 30 overall pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for the 40th pick and two future second-round picks, and their intel proved right, as they were able to get Butler with the 40th pick, plus the future assets, without a hitch.
“He was somebody that we were really excited when we had the chance to get him,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said with a smile after the draft. “It was a no-brainer for us.”
Butler, who won a national championship with Baylor and was named the 2021 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, was originally projected as a mid-first round draft selection, but a heart condition that was flagged before the draft combine in June seemed to be the reason that his draft stock fell in recent weeks.
The 20-year-old Louisiana native was held out of on-court activities during most of the pre-draft process and was told that he couldn’t play or practice in any capacity with the NBA until he was cleared by a fitness-to-play panel — a panel of three physicians chosen by the NBA and players association.
That clearance came on July 17.
has unanimously confirmed my fitness to play in the NBA. Now, my focus is entirely on the Draft and working daily to prepare myself to fulfill my lifelong dream !!— Jared Butler (@J_Hooper11) July 17, 2021
While the inability to work out for NBA teams and possible lingering concerns may have been the reason he dropped in the draft, it never seemed to be much of a concern for Butler, who was diagnosed with the heart condition before his playing days at Baylor began.
Originally Butler had committed to play at Alabama, but was granted a release from his letter of intent and accepted a scholarship from Baylor — a spot that was coincidentally opened by the sudden retirement of Jake Lindsey, the son of former Jazz vice president of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey.
Butler’s condition was known and he was cleared to play in each of his three years with the Bears. After being cleared by the NBA’s fitness-to-play panel, the Jazz felt confident in moving forward.
“We’re comfortable with Jared as a player, as a person and we’re excited to add him,” Zanik said. “I don’t want to get into any of those other details. It’s just that we feel really good about him.”
So what are the Jazz getting in Butler?
The 6-foot-3 combo guard was named to the All-Big 12 first team and Big 12 All-Defense first team. He finished his junior year shooting shooting 47.1% overall and 41.6% from 3-point range, having increased his shooting efficiency every year.
Butler is good on and off the dribble, has really good handles and uses them to create space for shooting and driving. He isn’t afraid of playing through contact and is crafty around the rim, but there are times when he tries to get a little too creative. He’s a strong player with an NBA-ready physique, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting him to trust his play and power through for a foul or easy finish.
Butler’s passing is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s good at reading a play and anticipating for lobs or guys who are cutting, and he’s not selfish at all. As his role increased at Baylor, so did his assist numbers.
Sometimes though, his confidence in his ability can lead to risky plays. He committed just under three turnovers per game (2.8) in his final season at Baylor. He’ll have to become a little more tempered against NBA defenses if he wants to keep the turnovers to a minimum.
While Butler’s shooting numbers were impressive and his range indicates that he’ll have no problem acclimating to the NBA, it’s his defensive abilities and upside that are likely the most attractive assets that Butler brings to the table.
Despite the fact that Butler doesn’t have the greatest wingspan (6-foot-4), it hasn’t held him back on the defensive end. He’s incredibly active with his hands, averaging two steals per game in his junior season, plus a ton of deflections.
But it’s not just his ability to strip the ball that makes Butler special on the defensive end. He’s good at applying ball pressure and creating problems for initiators while also being very instinctual and quick on rotations and in help defense. He a great individual defender and team defender, which makes his value to the Jazz huge.
It remains to be seen whether all of his skills will translate to the NBA or how long it will take for them to translate, but the Jazz aren’t worried about giving him time.
“We’re talking about a guy who is now about to become a rookie in the NBA with a highly competitive, championship competitive organization,” Zanik said. “He’s physically strong, tough mentally, tough being able to put up with the grind of the season. ... He’s got as good a head start as anybody that’s coming in without ever playing in the NBA.”
Butler will be heading to Salt Lake City in the coming days, but his availability for summer league play isn’t totally ironed out. The 40th pick is tied up in a trade between the Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans. Once that trade, as well as the trade with the Jazz are finalized, Butler will be available.
Even if we assume that all is not finalized until Aug. 6, which is when all free agents and signings can be made official, it should mean that Butler will be available to play in the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, which begins on Aug. 8.