Jared Butler’s rookie year wasn’t what he imagined, but he’s hopeful for the future
The 21-year-old spent much of his rookie season in the G League, but thinks that a larger role is on the horizon
Jared Butler went into the 2021-22 NBA season fresh off an NCAA championship run with the Baylor Bears. He had high hopes for his rookie season, but the year ended up being largely developmental with limited playing time at the bottom of the Jazz’s depth chart.
But, as the Jazz enter an offseason in which big changes are inevitable, Butler is once again hopeful that a larger role is on the horizon.
On April 25, Butler logged 4 minutes, 41 seconds against the Dallas Mavericks in an NBA playoff game. Sure, Donovan Mitchell was injured in the fourth quarter and Butler’s minutes came during the Jazz’s Game 4 blowout loss, but it was still an important moment for Butler. He was on the court, experiencing the NBA playoffs, feeling the buzz of the crowd.
Butler had a lot of “welcome to the NBA” moments like that over the past season — points in time that stand out as milestone experiences.
“Like playing against some of the guys that I grew up watching, like Chris Paul and LeBron James,” Butler said. “I can sit back and be like, man, that was like a pivotal moment.”
But there were also things that happened that were unexpected and hard for the 21-year-old to navigate.
“Playing in the G League, not expecting to play in the G League,” Butler said. “Wanting to play in the NBA.”
The young guard, by no fault of his own, behind a veteran rotation, often felt like he wasn’t able to showcase all that he had to offer. And even when he was given opportunities, they weren’t consistent or lengthy.
In Butler’s junior season at Baylor, his final year, he averaged just over 30 minutes and a team high 16.7 points per game. In his debut NBA season, after being drafted 40th overall, Butler logged just 11 games in which he played more than 10 minutes.
When it was all said and done, Butler played in 43 NBA games this season — including his four-minute stint in the playoffs — and it was largely during garbage time, alongside the other deep-bench players.
This offseason for the Jazz will be challenging as the team decides what the future of the franchise looks like. Without knowing what direction the front office will take, we do know that the Jazz will look to get younger and that significant roster changes are likely coming.
With that in mind, and following an exit interview this week with Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, Butler is feeling like there could be bigger and better opportunities for him during the 2022-23 season.
“I am, personally,” he said, with a hint of eagerness and anticipation in his voice after being asked if he’s hopeful. “And I think there is some overall uncertainty, from just an NBA standpoint. You know how summers are with the NBA. So, with that I think it was encouraging and I do feel hopeful coming from the meeting.”
Butler is a gifted guard with a ton of raw talent and an NBA-ready shot profile, so it’s understandable, based on abilities alone, that he would have a positive outlook. There’s also his unwavering thirst for knowledge, his fearlessness to ask questions and his drive for wanting to get better despite any of the circumstances.
But a possibly underrated reason that Butler is able to move forward with such a hopeful attitude was a relationship built with Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who joined the Jazz at the trade deadline.
Alexander-Walker, drafted 17th overall in 2019, played in the G League and racked up numerous DNPs in his first season with the New Orleans Pelicans before eventually becoming a part of the rotation. He was proof that patience and hard work pay off in the NBA.
Of course, Alexander-Walker was traded away from the Pelicans, where he was getting regular playing time, and ended up in the same situation as Butler with the Jazz — at then end of the bench with limited minutes. But the two helped one another.
“Jared Butler was a huge, huge, huge piece in the mental stability of it all,” Alexander-Walker said. “Being a follower of God and having someone like him to talk to about fellowship. And he was going through the same thing as a rookie. Me being (in the same situation) my rookie year and being able to help him, it all meant a lot.”
Butler heads into his first NBA offseason, which also happens to be the first full-length and normal offseason since 2019. After the 2019-20 season was upended because of COVID-19, summers have been short, prospects have had less time to prepare for the NBA, summer play has been different and interrupted, and the time between one season and the next has been abbreviated.
The Jazz are hoping that Butler, along with some of the other young players on the roster, will be able to play in Summer League in Las Vegas this year.
“What I’m excited for, for the young guys — this includes Nickeil, Jared, Trent (Forrest) — is that Jared didn’t have Summer League last year and coming off the draft there was really a month shorter offseason,” Zanik said. “So for all of these guys ... this is going to be their first proper offseason with the draft when it’s supposed to be, summer league when it’s supposed to be, OTAs when they’re supposed to be. Being connected with our players and our great player development staff, I’m really excited to see where they go.”
Butler, who will spend some of the offseason in Houston training, is looking at all-around growth this summer. He wants to continue to perfect his shooting, to work better off the dribble, to continue to develop as a playmaker and to refine some of his defensive skills.
“Guarding the pick-and-roll, being able to guard my position and even the two position,” he said. “And I think being able to get guys involved is something that the Jazz are looking for from me. But I think at the end of the day it also comes with just timing and roster spots and the organization believing in me and giving me an opportunity.”
This upcoming season, the timing could be right — the roster might open up and the Jazz, who believe in Butler, could give him the opportunity he’s been hoping for.