BUTLER GETTING 'QUALITY LOOKS'
PLAYA VISTA – The Clippers have so many weapons offensively that two-time All-Star Caron Butler can sometimes seem forgotten.
He has a distinct role next to Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin: spread the floor and score the basketball.
In the last four games, since Butler sat out with a sore lower back in Philadelphia, he’s seemed rejuvenated. It could be his health. It could be confidence knowing that he’s going to play roughly 30 minutes per night. Or it could be finally getting to suit up alongside Billups and Paul, who make Butler’s life on the perimeter all the more pleasant.
“Playing with those guys, they know the game of basketball,” Butler said after Monday’s practice. “They know where to find me in rhythm and in my spots. It’s not a second early, not a second too late. It’s right in rhythm and that comes with playing the game so much and knowing your teammates and things like that.”
Since Feb. 13, when Butler scored 19 points against the Houston Rockets, he is averaging 16.0 points per game on 48.9% shooting. He’s been a threat from the 3-point arc, but even more so drawing defenders away towards him, ball-faking and dribbling into a higher percentage shot.
He’s 7-for-9 on shots inside of 9 feet in that span, accounting for nearly 15% of his makes from that range on the season.
“I’m getting run off the three a lot more now,” said Butler, who has made just 48 shots from 9 feet or closer in 55 games. “Looking at teams and how they’re scouting me, they’re running us off threes, so I’m getting higher percentage looks, quality looks.”
The looks have come in part because of Billups and Paul, and Griffin as well, finding him in his comfort zone. But it has also been a matter of seeming a little revived. He’s played 29 or more minutes in three of the last four games, with a blowout loss to San Antonio the only exception, and has looked spry in the early going of each outing since the Clippers returned from their marathon eight-game road trip.
“I think the break was good for him,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Caron’s here every night working out, shooting, riding the bike and just staying on top of everything. When he is a factor out there, not only offensively, defensively, it just makes us that much better.”
It has been particularly evident how much better he makes the Clippers in the first quarter where Butler’s shooting 57.9% from 3-point range in February. The team has won six of its last eight games, including leading after the opening period in five of those victories. In that stretch Butler is averaging 6.0 points per game in the first quarter.
“I’m just getting my rhythm early and coach [Del Negro has] the confidence and trust in me to give me consistent time and I’m making the most of it,” Butler said.
For Del Negro, Butler’s success early in games goes a long way in making the Clippers a more dynamic offensive unit.
“It opens up the game,” Del Negro said. “He gives us another dimension because he can shoot the basketball. You have to know where he’s at.”