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The Jared Butler hype is growing.
First came the word that he was excelling in workouts with teammates. Then came the praise from teammates in training camp. His putting Mike Conley on skates, then finishing over Rudy Gobert at the rim in a livestreamed scrimmage got the masses’ collective tongues hanging out of their mouths. And on Monday and Wednesday, the rookie guard went out and led the Utah Jazz in scoring in each of their first two preseason games.
There’s a lot to like, certainly. There’s also plenty of reason to dial down the enthusiasm a few notches.
While there’s excitement about what he’s shown and what he can grow into, there’s also a reason that coach Quin Snyder and star guard Donovan Mitchell touched on the exactly the same theme regarding the Baylor product’s rookie arc:
“The biggest thing is, ‘Stay with it, stay patient.’ We have an offense that’s complicated, we have a defense that’s complicated, we have so many things being thrown at him,” Mitchell responded when asked what advice he’d given to his new teammate. “… He’s gonna have a role, he’s gonna be a part of our group. He’s confident in himself and his game, but the biggest thing is just learning the stuff. He’s not gonna learn it overnight. I can tell you, he’s a kid that’s gonna want to be perfect every practice, and it’s not always gonna be that way. So stay patient.”
Snyder expounded upon the idea, noting that impressive as the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four has been to this point, he doesn’t yet warrant taking backcourt minutes away from Mitchell or Mike Conley or Jordan Clarkson or Joe Ingles.
“For Jared, part of it is patience. You can be really competitive and hungry, and still be patient,” said Snyder. “When I say ‘patience,’ it’s a little bit like preparing for when an opportunity presents itself for you to have an impact. And understanding that the impact you might have on this team, because of the makeup of the team, is gonna look different. Invariably there’s injuries, there’s foul trouble. Continuing to work and be hungry and not be frustrated if it doesn’t come right away [is important].”
It helps that Butler has been fantastically even-keeled in his approach.
He denied feeling any nerves before his first NBA preseason matchup (“I played in a national championship game”) but did concede there were “a lot of emotions” beforehand, and admitted that it was a bit of a process getting comfortable.
He’s acknowledged all along the adjustments that are ahead of him, the acclimatizing that must take place. He knows NBA players are bigger, faster, stronger, more athletic, more skilled than what he encountered in college. He’s opined on how he’ll need to get used to a season of 100 or so games as opposed to 35 or 40, to teammates who’ve been professional athletes nearly as long as he’s been alive.
“Rudy Gay, he’s been in the league [16 years] and I’m 21 years old,” Butler noted with a laugh. “And after practice, they go home to their kids and I go home to play video games. It’s been different — it is a little barrier.”
Not much of one, though, by all accounts.
What’s alleviated any potential awkwardness, however, is Butler’s willingness to acknowledge that he knows there’s a lot he doesn’t know, and to seek out Mitchell and Conley, in particular, for help.
“We talk about situations that we see. And he loves information. He absorbs information and he’s quick to ask questions,” said Mitchell. “He doesn’t act like he knows the answer, and he’s willing to listen.”
“[I’m] picking points throughout practices to teach — whether it’s off to the side, even during live action sometimes, you can help him through different situations; while I’m on defense, or I’m on offense and the play isn’t for me, I’m talking him through what I’m thinking,” added Conley. “And he picks up on stuff really quickly.”
Snyder called the veterans’ willingness to take Butler under their wing and mold him in a way the coach can’t “tremendously valuable.”
For Butler, it’s all about setting aside ego, recognizing that those other guys simply know better than he does right now, even finding the value in the “same old boring habits” that Conley practices day after day.
“I think it just depends on the type of person you are: Can you handle criticism? Can you handle being able to hear what he’s saying? Actually visualize what he’s saying and then replicate it on the court?” Butler said. “I’m a fairly fast learner. And when Donovan tells you something, I’m like, ‘All right, if it’s working for him, I’m gonna make it work for me.’”
And there remains quite a lot yet for him to master.
Conley cited improved court awareness and consistency of urgency. Veteran center Hassan Whiteside noted that Butler is too score-first right now, and must improve at locating corner shooters for drive-and-kicks. Mitchell made it a trifecta, explaining that once the 21-year-old can better discern the difference between being in attack mode all the time vs. simply being appropriately aggressive, he’ll improve at “finding ways to get teammates involved.”
And in the meantime, Butler brings plenty to the table — Mitchell raved about his ability to manipulate big men; both he and Snyder talked about his “poise” on the court; Clarkson lit up about the rookie’s shiftiness and capacity for getting to his preferred spots on the court; and Conley expressed awe about his rate of information absorption.
Snyder pointed out that, by virtue of Butler falling from his projected draft position in the late teens all the way to No. 40 because of concerns about heart and knee conditions, he probably lost out on some chances for more immediate playing time.
The coach, though, put a silver lining on the situation, saying the upside to the guard’s situation is that he now finds himself surrounded by talented veterans accustomed to winning, who can help him make the most of his career.
And while that means sacrificing some playing time in the present, he will ultimately benefit from just a bit of … well, patience.
“When you talk to him, he’s got a very mature outlook, and that will serve him well not just now with this team but over the course of his career,” Snyder said. “… You’re coming into a team that isn’t perfect, but had some success last year; you come into a team that isn’t as good of a team, there’s going to be more opportunity. But he’s got a chance to watch and learn and not just be coached by me, but be coached by Mike and Donovan and Joe — and that’s a real advantage, especially over a longer term.”