The Baylor guard has a great two-way profile and has shown improvement year after year. He’s an excellent and rangy shooter who is a dynamic individual and team defender. He’d played big minutes and made big plays on the biggest collegiate stage, winning an NCAA title with the Bears.
“We had made the basketball operations evaluation,” Jazz general manager Justin Zanik said. “He’s more than good enough and we think he has a chance to be really good.”
But the on-court talent is just part of the equation when it comes to evaluating draft prospects.
There can be a guy who looks great on the court but his personality just wouldn’t mesh with the players currently on a roster. You could be looking at a guy who you think would fit in perfectly with a team, but he just doesn’t seem like he’s motivated to change or improve.
To strike the perfect balance, the goal of all NBA teams is to find a player who fits in schematically and skill-wise, while also demonstrating personality traits that fit with the team’s vision.
And that’s where Butler became a must-have player in the Jazz’s eyes.
“Guys that demonstrate self-awareness of their own weaknesses, of things that make them happy, how well rounded they are, what they like,” Zanik said of traits the Jazz look for when conducting pre-draft interviews with players. “The self-awareness part is good because there aren’t perfect players that come in to the NBA and there is a development path.”
In order for players to take to that development path and to really excel, they have to be self-aware and have the motivation and be willing to put in the work. As far as the Jazz are concerned, Butler has those traits in spades.
In fact, Jazz brass is banking on Butler quickly becoming a fan and media favorite.
“He’s going to be your favorite,” Zanik said to local reporters Thursday night. “Maybe Jared will hear this and think I’m putting too high of an expectation, but I talked to my wife tonight ... and I just said, ‘I think I found Lucy’s (Zanik’s youngest daughter) new favorite player.’”
The Jazz had a pretty good idea of the kind of person and player Butler is before needing to dig too deep. While at Baylor, Butler spent his Sundays at Harris Creek Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, teaching Sunday school classes to second- and third-graders.
Butler was a highly regarded locker room presence, a coaching favorite and was able to graduate with a degree in marketing and management in three years. He’s a player who is willing to study and, as the Jazz were hoping, is remarkably self-aware at just 20 years old.
League sources indicated that Butler is one of the players who shined with every team he interviewed with, and intel on the junior guard only backed up what teams were seeing.
“I’m very proud of our staff that does a really good job of making sure that we have as much intel and information,” Zanik said. “We’ve had an opportunity to closely follow that from some personal ties, not necessarily to Jared, but to the (Baylor) program. That gives you a lot more confidence in the information you’re seeing and taking in.”
The goal now is to translate everything — Butler’s on-court skills, his personality and his work ethic — to the NBA and hope that his development moves at a reasonable pace.