Earlier today, Stephen A. Smith said that the Philadelphia 76ers had an offer of the 3rd overall pick for Jimmy Butler. Philadelphia opted to trade that pick as part of a package with the Boston Celtics to move up to the 1st overall. Now, we don’t know if anything else was necessary for that Butler trade, but for the moment, let’s consider whether Jimmy Butler is worth the 3rd overall pick to a contender.
Jimmy Butler was 3rd in Win Shares (via basketball-reference.com) this year. It’s a volume efficiency stat, so things like LeBron resting games and Kevin Durant missing part of the season impact the final rankings, but regardless, Butler is a top 10 player.
I went through all small forwards and shooting guards in the modern era, within two inches of Butler in height, and found the most similar by win shares between ages 23 and 27. I didn’t look just at overall win shares, but the shape, with Butler putting up his best last year at age 27 (very different from say, Tracy McGrady, even though they had a similar overall win shares total over the five-year period.)
Here were the most similar players to Jimmy Butler based on that analysis:
Seven of those 10 players are (or in the case of Ray Allen will be) in the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame. If you look at what they did after age 27, most continued to be productive, with the exception of Gerald Wallace. The next two seasons produced all-star caliber, top 20 level players on average, which is what the team acquiring Butler would hope for.
Here’s a comparison to those average win shares by year, compared to the 1st and 3rd overall picks from 2003-20012, over the first five years of their careers.
You can see where the Butler comps and the third overall picks are pretty similar by years 4 and 5 (when the Butler comps are 31 and 32). The first two years, though, it’s a heavy advantage for the known commodity. The draft picks are higher variable (with booms and busts), but the biggest average payday is going with the proven all-star at ages 28 and 29.
Butler is now reportedly drawing interest from the Cavaliers, who are working to get a three-way trade that would join him with LeBron James. If the Butler move to Cleveland happens, you can basically install Cleveland as the strong favorite in the East, as they have been in the past few years. If, however, the Celtics can swoop in with the 3rd pick and make a deal work, that could swing the balance in the East away from Cleveland. A lot depends on what happens with Butler.
Jimmy Butler is on a Hall of Fame path, as his comparable players in history show. Go compare his career to James Worthy at this point, for example, and Worthy had basically two top seasons left after age 27. What Butler hasn’t had is playing on a team with other top stars, like Worthy had with the Showtime Lakers. That may change soon.