New Orleans Pelicans MLE Tournament: Caron Butler vs. Thabo Sefolosha

Published: June 11, 2014

Caron Butler (2 years and $7 million)

by: Nick Lewellen

Let’s start off with some real talk. We have our core players already on the roster, and we all know that the Pelicans could have been much better last season if it weren’t for that horrific string of injuries. At this point, all we are looking for are the complementary pieces to fill out the roster. We are looking for the guys that could push the needle enough to make us a playoff contender.

The only problem with this tournament is that there probably aren’t a lot of guys in it who can do that for us. There are some solid options here, and a few of these guys could be solid contributors. But this isn’t the difference between winning a championship and losing one.

Why am I starting off with this dose of reality? Because again, both of the guys in this matchup could preform very well for us, but neither is going to be the major difference. I also bring it up because I’m a bit worried that you’ll be enticed to go with the “defensive specialist” Thabo Sefolosha, because it seems like he could sure up our defensive weaknesses, but let’s ignore that for now and focus on the man of the hour (or this portion of the article) Caron Butler.

What Butler would bring to New Orleans is pretty simple. He is an experienced veteran, who plays a position of need. He isn’t a long-term solution, but he can come in and be a stopgap SF for a couple years, while we find a more permanent replacement. He can hit 3’s. He defends okay. And he does those “veteran things” that coaches always seem to go on about. He is a bit older at 34, but he has remained productive, as he has aged. It isn’t like shooters ever need to be youthful, anyway. Also, Thabo is no spring chicken at 30. Chances are that both of these guys have played their best basketball already. Then think about what he can bring to the locker room. He has played with some huge stars over the last decade. He has seen things go right like when Durant won his MVP, and he has seen things go wrong like Gilbert Arenas. Think how valuable his voice would be in the locker room for a guy like Anthony Davis. Actually, don’t think. Listen to Kevin Durant talk about Caron Butler’s influence.

So why chose Caron over Thabo? Well, do me a favor; think about the guys we know will most likely be on this roster next year. Guys like Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Austin Rivers, and Eric Gordon (maybe even Pierre Jackson). Now, all of them are best at either guard position, much like Thabo. There are only a limited number of minutes each game. Do we really need another guard, no matter how good he is at defense, like we need a wing player? Also, let’s talk about this whole defense thing for a second. According to synergy stats, the difference between Thabo and Caron’s overall points per possession last season was .02 (.96 for Caron and .94 for Thabo). That’s not a huge difference when you consider the best thing about Thabo is his defense.

Then there is the contract issue. Caron’s two-year deal is short and sweet with minimal commitment. It solves a roster shortcoming without becoming an albatross. Thabo’s deal is a year longer and a half a million more expensive per year. I’m not going to sell this as some huge difference between the two, but it is important to keep in mind that Caron would be slightly cheaper and allow for slightly more flexibility.

The last thought I want to leave you with is playoffs. Yes, playoffs. Butler played 419 minutes for the Thunder during this postseason, while Thabo logged only 236 and played in 3 fewer games. When it counted most, the Thunder moved away from Thabo and gave Butler a bigger role. Does it really make sense for us to do the opposite? To invest in a limited shooting guard, who will become a liability in big games? Shouldn’t we go for the cheaper crafty veteran, who fills a big hole in the roster?

Well, I’m going with Butler.

Thabo Sefolosha (3 years and $12 million)

by: Ryan Schwan

We’ll open this with a question.  There were a lot of teams last year with front offices who were trying to tank.  Of those not wanting to tank after more than a couple weeks, guess how many had a worse defense than the Pelicans.  If you said zero, take a cookie, because you are right.  Then eat that cookie and the rest of the package as you wallow in despair over the unfairness of it all.

The Pelican’s defense sucked.  Sure, I can pretend there were good defenders on the team, and some may even be good defenders.  Maybe.  I can’t prove it – and neither can you.

Armed with just that information, it would be rock-stupid of anyone to go into this off-season and not prioritize defensive players for this team.  This team has offense!  Even when it was down to three of the big five playing, it kept a top 10 rating!  It took missing three of those guys to fall out of the top 10.  So why even look at that end of the floor?

So ask yourself another question:  How many of the players in this tournament have been contributors to top defenses over their last few years?  From sixteen, your list just burned down to two players:  Danny Granger and Thabo Sefolosha.  Two players.  We’ll of course focus on Thabo here, and not the broken down Granger. (Underhanded Zing!)

Quite frankly, you won’t find a better defender available on the open market this off-season.  Last year, he posted a Defensive Win shares of 2.1 – which is better than anyone on the Pelicans other than Davis.  It’s 25% better than the second best Pelican (Aminu) and in 30% fewer minutes.

Per Synergy Stats, despite taking on the most capable wing players, Thabo was the 70th best defender of isolations, and the 49th best when defending the Pick and Roll Ballhandler.  When working on the pick and roll, his long arms resulted in a staggering turnover rate of 30.3% for opposing players. 30.3!  Combine that with solid numbers defending screen plays and dribble hand-offs, and already Sefolosha is clearly a defensive upgrade to the bumbling attempts of Aminu – who posted worse defensive scores in every category tracked by Synergy but spot-up shooting defense.

I can’t emphasize this enough.  This squad needs veteran defensive players.  Guys who know how to play in a defensive system that works.  Guys who will take on the best offensive players and make them work for their shots.  Jrue and Anderson need to play with those guys again.  Davis and Evans need to play with those guys for the first time.  It is important to their future development.  They have to have someone on the team to learn from.

Still, that’s only the meat of my argument for Thabo.  Let’s get to the Gravy.  Despite being no one’s idea of an offensive player, Thabo fits into what this team needs offensively as well.  He is not the guy who needs the ball in his hands in any way, but he can hit the open shot, and that matters.  The two seasons previous to this one in OKC, the Thunder always had some combination of Westbrook and Durant with either Harden or Kevin Martin on the floor.  As the third or fourth option, Thabo’s usage rate sat in the 10% range – and his True Shooting percentage rose to Anthony Morrow levels of excellence.  He took good shots, and never did too much.

This last season – with Durant, stretches of Westbrook, and the inferior Reggie Jackson, Thabo’s usage rate rose to his highest level in OKC – and his shooting percentages regressed.  The lesson?  He needs offensive players around him so he can do what he does best.

The good news?  That’s not going to be a problem in New Orleans (unless there’s a whole host of bigger problems occurring)  With Davis, Anderson, Holiday, Evans, Gordon,  and Rivers around there will never be many shots left over for Thabo, allowing him to settle into the role he is best suited to.

And that, of course, is the problem with Caron Butler.  This season OKC needed someone to act as their third perimeter threat, next to, or in relief of, Durant and Westbrook.   He definitely wasn’t playing because of his defense.  Is that the sort of player this team needs?  High-usage, declining, and never a good defender at any point in his career?

No.  I think not.

Vote Sefolosha.

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