Baylor won 23 games in a row last season and reached No. 1 in the AP poll for just the second season ever in school history. This season, the Bears have won their first 14 games, half of which have come in Big 12 play.
While Baylor is so much more than a one-man band, junior guard Jared Butler directs the show. After a First Team All-Big 12 campaign as a sophomore, Butler has thrown his hat into the ring as a contender, if not a favorite, for Big 12 Player of the Year and All-American status.
Here’s what makes Butler one of the best players in the country.
He’s an elite 3-point shooter
Butler has attempted 81 3-pointers this season. He’s made 40 of them, giving him a 3-point percentage of 49.4, which ranks 35th nationally.
It’s not an overstatement to say that one of the best players in the country, Butler, is also one of the best 3-point shooters in the country. He has made multiple 3-pointers in 11 of Baylor’s 14 games and he’s 13-for-16 from deep in his last two games against Kansas and Oklahoma State. With seven threes against the Jayhawks and six against the Cowboys, he’s had two of his three best 3-point shooting games of his career in consecutive games.
Butler started his 3-point barrage against Kansas with an open three from the top of the key on the first possession of the game. Butler received back-to-back screens from Flo Thamba and Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji went under the second screen, which gave Butler the space he needed to knock down the shot.
A few minutes later, Butler inbounded the ball from below Kansas’ basket, then took a quick give-and-go from teammate Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who screen Butler’s defender, Marcus Garrett. That meant that Kansas big man Mitch Lightfoot was switched onto Butler.
Lightfoot left Butler before Garrett was able to regain his footing, leaving Baylor’s leading scorer with another wide-open 3-pointer. Because Baylor has so many offensive weapons, Butler benefited from the attention Kansas’ defense paid to Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who has made 60 percent of his 2-point attempts this season and who — like Butler — shouldn’t be left open in a spot where he can score easily.
What’s scary for Baylor’s opponents is that Butler isn’t alone on Baylor’s roster as a great 3-point shooter. Adam Flagler and Davion Mitchell are both 42-percent 3-point shooters, Matthew Mayer is at 41 percent and MaCio Teague is making 35 percent of his attempts from deep. That both diverts attention to Butler’s teammates and that 3-point shooting spreads the floor for Butler to get the space he needs. It also helps Baylor’s lead guard set up his teammates.
He’s one of the best assist men in the country
Despite leading Baylor in scoring at 17.1 points per game, Butler is just a fraction of an assist per game off the team lead in assists, too. He’s averaging 5.4 per game but that doesn’t tell the complete picture about his play-making. His assist rate — a metric that measures what percent of a team’s baskets are assisted by a player when he’s on the floor — is 32.7 percent, which means that roughly one out of every three Baylor baskets is directly due to Butler’s passing, when he’s on the floor.
Butler creates open shots for his teammates thanks in part to his own scoring ability. On this possession against Oklahoma, the Bears had four players around the perimeter with Tchamwa Tchatchoua in the paint. This is a common setup for Baylor, which often plays four perimeter-oriented players around one big man.
Even though Tchamwa Tchatchoua was on his way to set a screen for Butler, Butler made his move before the screen arrived and used a crossover dribble between his legs to get into the lane, where the help-side defense collapsed on him, which left teammate Adam Flagler wide open in the left corner. Flagler is 23-for-54 from deep this season, and one of those 23 3-pointers was set up by this drive from Butler.
All five Oklahoma defenders had at least one foot in the lane as Flagler was receiving the pass from Butler, which shows the gravity of Butler, and Flagler wasn’t alone as a wide-open teammate around the 3-point line. Just look at MaCio Teague on the left wing and Matthew Mayer in the right corner, who were also available for a swing pass in case Oklahoma’s defense recovered in time to contest Flagler’s shot.
In Baylor’s Big 12 opener this season, Butler had a double-double with 14 points and 13 assists, which nearly doubled his previous career-high of seven, which he had set the previous game.
His on-ball defense
Just as Butler leads the point of attack on offense, he helps set the tone for the Bears’s defense, as he forces 2.3 steals per game. With a steal rate of 4.5 percent, which means that he forces a steal on roughly one out of every 20 defensive possessions and that’s one of the top 30 percentages in the country.
Baylor’s defensive efficiency is No. 1 in the country, as opponents average just 87 points per 100 possessions against Baylor, and the Bears’s ability to force a turnover of 26.5 percent of their opponents’ offensive possessions is a major reason why their defense is so stingy.
He has had five games with at least three steals, including a five-steal game against TCU.
He picks and chooses his spots
On a game-to-game basis, Butler’s final stats may not look like those of a potential First Team All-American. In December, he had four games in a row where he scored between 12 and 14 points. But Baylor is so talented that the Bears don’t need Butler to score 20 or 25 points every game.
He scored a season-high 30 points — the second-highest total of his career — in a win over Kansas in mid-January, just two games after he scored 28 on the road against TCU. Butler, thanks to his nearly 50-percent 3-point shooting, can score and do so in bunches, but he doesn’t dominate the ball or Baylor’s offensive possessions in a way that detracts from the team overall.
Butler’s teammate Davion Mitchell also has an impressive assist rate — 30.1 percent, which ranks 85th nationally — so when the two players are on the floor together, nearly two-thirds of the Bears’ baskets are assisted by one of the two players, and that means that Butler can also play off the ball as more of a catch-and-shoot threat.