Jared Butler was one of the best players in college basketball last season. He was named 1st team All-Big 12 and 1st team Big 12 All-Defense. He was a consensus 1st team All-American. And his Baylor Bears became national champions, while he was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA tournament. The 6'4" and 193 pound well-rounded combo guard took down the then-undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs on their quest for history in the national championship, behind a 22-point, 7-assist effort. The 21-year-old declared for the draft back in May, and was looking like a surefire first round pick. But his NBA future is still up in the air, and not for on-court reasons.
Butler is a true knockdown shooter, definitely in the upper echelon of his class. Synergy Sports graded him in the 98th percentile in catch-and-shoot efficiency, scoring a ridiculous 1.511 points per possession, or equivalent to a 151.1 offensive rating. He also seems to have lots of potential as a movement shooter running off of down screens, which could be a huge staple for him and give him a way to get himself involved in an offense without having the ball. Shooting the three ball well above 40% on nearly 12 attempts per 100 possessions is remarkable, and every NBA team has a place on the roster for someone like that. But he has the ability to create his own shots off the dribble too, mainly out of the pick and roll where he punishes teams that go under or have their big man drop. He's got a little bit of an isolation game going as well, where he utilizes stepbacks and crossovers to create clean looks for himself.
Although his passing numbers don't necessarily jump off the page at you, he is a strong facilitator within an offense. It should be something to note that he shared a backcourt with a few other potential NBA-caliber players in Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Matthew Mayer, so Butler was not the only person given significant ball handling duties. He is especially strong out of the pick and roll, and proved plenty capable of making the right read to either score or pass. He often made lob passes to the roller or cutters. As a ball handler, he isn't very flashy or pronounced, but it's very straight-forward and compact and definitely a strength of his. The vision and decision-making are good, and although the turnovers were a bit high (2.8 per game), I would trust him to run an NBA offense in the beginning for spurts.
Butler was a pest of an on-ball defender at Baylor. Despite having an even wingspan, he was very disruptive, leading the Big 12 in steals. He is disciplined, and rarely makes mental mistakes on this end of the floor. He shadowed his man very well and slid his feet to contain dribble penetration. Opponents shot just 32.4% when he was their primary defender. He was exceptional playing passing lanes, and for a guard, his rotations were always timely and effective. He won't be super versatile due to his lack of length, but I think he is properly suited to guard both NBA 1's and 2's. He projects as an above average defensive guard with his lateral quickness and defensive IQ, but I don't think he'll be nearly as prolific against people bigger, stronger, and generally better than he saw in college.
It really is hard to nitpick on some things that Butler doesn't do extremely well because he is one of the most complete packages outside of the lottery. But I think the number one thing for many people as of right is his lack of athletic burst. This might limit his ability to finish in the NBA against defenses that are generally longer and provide greater rim protection. But even so, he was able to convert 63.7% of his looks in the restricted area. He's got a good strong frame, and even without some of the length that would make finishing easier, he did draw his fair share of fouls. The next step for his development will be to continue to develop an in-between game with his runner, which is a pretty important ingredient for a lead guard's game. He converted 14 of 37 floaters attempted (37.8%).
At the Draft Combine, Butler was found to have an undisclosed heart condition, and his NBA future is up in the air until he is cleared to play by a panel of medical examiners. Until he is cleared, he will not be allowed to engage in any on-court basketball activities. This heart condition was first discovered back in 2018 when he committed to play at Alabama, but then transferred to Baylor after being told he couldn't play. The issue has since subsided and has now cropped back up in the pre-draft process. First and foremost, I hope he is going to be okay and nothing basketball-related takes precedence over his health and well-being. But there remains a possibility that there will be some time before he is cleared, and his draft stock has fallen a bit due to the uncertainty of the things that are out of his control.
Until the Ben Simmons situation comes to a solution one way or another, it will be difficult to see what they should do with their first round pick this season - if they even keep it at all. The guard rotation at this moment is actually quite full. Simmons and Seth Curry started last season, but you still have Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, George Hill, and Isaiah Joe under contract next season. And that's not including free agents to be Danny Green and Furkan Korkmaz, both of which the Sixers hold their bird rights to (meaning they can go over the salary cap to re-sign them if they please). Of course, depending on who is being acquired in the presumed Simmons trade, some of those names may not still be here.
Butler is a rotation player next season, regardless of who is here and who isn't. He is a very good shooter who can play on-ball and off-ball, can make plays for himself and others, will at bare minimum hold his own defensively, and I don't think the learning curve will be all that steep for someone who won't step onto an NBA court until he's 22 years old. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he finds his way into the starting lineup a handful of times in the case of injury or rest. Just two weeks ago, it would have been surprising to see him fall so low to 28, as he was being mocked as high as the late teens. But these unfortunate circumstances are interfering with his livelihood at one of the worst times imaginable.
NBA comparison: George Hill. He has enjoyed a long fruitful career as an excellent perimeter shooter, a plus perimeter defender, a plus playmaker, and has been a starting point guard for most of his days. Again, health permitting, but he should be a contributor from day one on every NBA roster. He won't have the ceiling that many of the guards that will be taken around him, like Tre Mann, Sharife Cooper and Jaden Springer. But he has one of the highest floors of any prospect in this draft outside of the guys at the very top. Then again, the "older" upperclassman point guard with the "low ceiling" has long been disrespected in NBA draft conversations before (Malcolm Brogdon, Jalen Brunson, Devonte' Graham, etc.), so who knows?