The position of small forward has never been so loaded in the NBA. Not only is the position top heavy, with LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard being arguably the three best players in the league, but furthermore guys like Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Gordon Hayward are some of the best two-way players in the league, and all three of them just happen to be rumored in a bunch of trades, due to Hayward’s free agency and the stagnant state of Butler and George’s teams, and the team mentioned in all of these rumors happens to be the Boston Celtics, who are looking for another star in order to further contend. And so that is why I have decided to compare these players in the following categories:
-Ability to Play Within the Offense/Off-Ball Scoring
Of course, these categories should not be worth the same, as I have four offensive categories and just one defensive category, but these categories just help explore the final ruling.
Jimmy Butler: 1.88 PTS/FGA on Drives, 1.44 PTS/Poss in Transition, .87 PTS/Poss in Isolation, .91 PTS/Poss in Pick and Roll, 1.07 PTS/Poss on Post-Ups
Paul George: 1.54 PTS/FGA on Drives, 1.12 PTS/Poss in Transition, .94 PTS/Poss in Isolation, 1.01 PTS/Poss in Pick and Roll, .94 PTS/Poss on Post-Ups
Gordon Hayward: 1.44 PTS/FGA on Drives, 1.38 PTS/Poss in Transition, .82 PTS/Poss in Isolation, .98 PTS/Poss in Pick and Roll, .85 PTS/Poss on Post-Ups
I decided to separate the categories of two-point scoring and three-point shooting, rather than just making a scoring category in order to more closely pinpoint the offensive distinctions between the three players. With two-point scoring I found that the weakest (I’m using this term relatively) player out of the three of them was Gordon Hayward, who is the worst driver, one-on-one player and post up player out of the three, without leading in any category. With these stats Hayward proves that although he is one of the best and athletically gifted players in the game, compared to these two, he is just slightly less capable at finishing inside.
Then between Butler and George, I needed to find out who was the superior two-point scorer, and due to his offensive aggressiveness, it is Butler. He is much better than George at driving to the basket and finishing in transition, and although George is the slightly superior player in isolation and in pick and rolls, due to the fact that he would potentially be playing with Isaiah Thomas, who will still would be the main ball-handler, it is made less important than the categories in which Butler is superior.
Jimmy Butler: 36.7% 3P%, 1.2 3PMPG, 40.2% 3P% on Catch and Shoot, 34.4% 3P% on Pull Ups, 55.3% on Corner Threes, 39% Adjusted Three-Point Percentage
Paul George: 39.4% 3P%, 2.6 3PMPG, 42% 3P% on Catch and Shoot, 32.8% 3P% on Pull Ups, 40.4% on Corner Threes, 40% Adjusted Three-Point Percentage
Gordon Hayward: 39.8% 3P%, 2 3PMPG, 38.7% 3P% on Catch and Shoot, 40.8% 3P% on Pull Ups, 40% on Corner Threes, 39.4% Adjusted Three-Point Percentage
Although I could have just decided this category based on three-point percentage and nothing else, I could not wholeheartedly put Hayward over George based on .4%, and so I decided to look a bit deeper, and included some play type statistics and my own adjusted three-point percentage (time to pimp myself out: NBA Advanced Stats: Top 5 Most Underrated and Overrated Three-Point Shooters), in order to give a bit more context to their three-point percentages.
Despite the finer line between the three found in their play type three-point percentages and adjusted three-point percentage, Jimmy Butler still shows to be the worst three-point shooter, as he simply shoots for a worse percentage on less attempts per game. However, as proven by his catch and shoot, corner and adjusted three-point percentages, Butler is still a very solid and improved three-point shooter, just not as good as George or Hayward.
Between George and Hayward, I am going to give the minuscule edge to Paul George due to his better catch and shoot three-point percentage, which would probably help him a lot playing next to Isaiah Thomas, as well as that, George shoots almost an identical three-point percentage on more attempts per game, and his adjusted three-point percentage proves that if George and Hayward were given the same league-average defensive coverage, George would hit his threes on a slightly higher clip.
Jimmy Butler: 5.5 APG, 24.8% AST%, 2.6 AST/TOV, 12.8 AST PPG Created, 11.5 Potential APG
Paul George: 3.3 APG, 16.1 AST%, 1.2 AST/TOV, 8.1 AST PPG Created, 6.7 Potential APG
Gordon Hayward: 3.5 APG, 18.2 AST%, 1.8 AST/TOV, 8.6 AST PPG Created, 6.8 Potential APG
As proven by the above statistics, Jimmy Butler is by far the best passer out of the three, his assist statistics are far superior to the other two, specifically his assist per turnover ratio, which is actually seventh in the league among non-point guards. His statistics really prove his development as a playmaker, as he has improved all of these statistics every year for the past four years.
Then between George and Hayward, based on the statistics above, Hayward comes out as the better passer, but only by a slight margin, and being that the Utah Jazz are a far worse team in both assists and assists per 100 possessions than the Indiana Pacers, these are not padded assist numbers for Hayward. I guess if anything, this proves that George really did not trust his Pacers’ teammates this year...
Ability to Play Within the Offense/Off-Ball Scoring:
Jimmy Butler: 13.8% Iso Freq, 40.9% AST’d FGM, 58.6% TS%
Paul George: 17.5% Iso Freq, 51.3% AST’d FGM, 58.7% TS%
Gordon Hayward: 7.4% Iso Freq, 51.6% AST’d FGM, 59.5% TS%
Although individual offensive tools are obviously important when evaluating a player, what is equally important is the player’s ability to adapt to an offensive system, and so that is why I made this a separate category. I decided to make this category relate mostly to off-ball statistics, as despite for the fact that these three will get a lot of opportunities on the Celtics as ball-handlers, due to the fact that the Celtics lack reliable playmakers outside of Isaiah Thomas, with Thomas still eating up a lot of ball time, a big part of how they will score on the Celtics will be coming off the ball.
And from the statistics, it is pretty clear that Hayward is the least isolation reliant, as he utilizes his speed and craftiness to move well of the ball, but the more important reason why Hayward is a good fit for the Boston Celtics is because he has had experience playing under Brad Stevens at Butler University. He is quite familiar with the style that Stevens’s teams play.
And then between Butler and George, the reason why Butler’s percentage of baskets assisted is so low compared to George is because the amount of times Butler drives. Due to the fact that Butler drives 9.4 times per game to George’s 5.4, Butler sees himself a lower percentage of assisted field goals made, due to the fact that most of these drives go unassisted. However, proven by George’s higher isolation frequency, George simply tries to play hero ball a lot more than Butler, compared to Butler who is simply a more aggressive player than George, and that should not be penalized, but still both of these guys take way too many mid-range shots, with Butler shooting about 37.9% of his shots from the mid-range and George shooting 37.6% of his shots from there, probably due to their high isolation frequencies while Hayward shoots just 27.9% from mid-range, but with that, through his superior job at attacking the basket, and lower dependability on isolation plays, Butler earns himself a second place finish.
Jimmy Butler: .065 DWS/48, 1.1 DBPM, 43.1% DFG%, 1.9 SPG, 3.6 Deflections Per Game, 5.6 Contests Per Game
Paul George: .055 DWS/48, -.3 DBPM, 46% DFG%, 1.6 SPG, 3.2 Deflection Per Game, 8.5 Contests Per Game
Gordon Hayward: .063 DWS/48, 0 DBPM, 41.7% DFG%, 1 SPG, 1.7 Deflections Per Game, 5.6 Contests Per Game
With a far superior defensive box plus minus, I’d say it is safe to give this category’s top spot to Butler. He has a strength, quickness and size advantage on a lot of his offenders, and his activity on the defensive end is pretty spectacular.
Meanwhile, between George and Hayward, the judging becomes harder to determine, due to the fact that Hayward may currently be benefitting from some trickle-down defensive statistics from the Utah Jazz’s third in the league defense, while George, who has had a defensive box plus minus of 1.9 from 2011 to 2016, when his team had a second in the league 101.6 defensive rating in that time period, has been on a 16th in the league offense this year, which is possibly contributing to his career low in defensive box plus minus and his inferior defended field goal percentage. And being that Hayward’s defensive box plus minus is nowhere near the level of where George’s was from 2011 to 2016, mixed with the facts that George was a lot better than Hayward at deflecting the ball and contesting shots this year and the fact that George is simply bigger and longer than Hayward, I’m going to give second place to Paul George.
This section is about the possibility that Jimmy Butler, Paul George or Gordon Hayward will actually go to the Celtics, as what would even be the point of the Celtics going for a player that they can’t realistically get.
Due to the fact that he will be a free agent in the offseason next year, and therefore won’t be available for trades, Gordon Hayward seems like the least likely Celtic, as although he and Brad Stevens have the Butler connection, that does not seem like enough to drag Hayward away from the Utah Jazz, who are on the verge of building a title contender with a couple more pieces, and besides the Jazz, Hayward will likely attract offers from other teams being that he is a player of his caliber. What puts Hayward last in the attainability section is that he is not going to leave a good scenario, as the Jazz are currently in the second round of the playoffs and looking like a great team. Meanwhile, with Butler and George, they are doing a lot more heavy lifting on low seeded NBA teams, which do not seem to be going anywhere at the moment, which may be why they could request trades.
And although from the outside Butler definitely does not seem to want to stay in Chicago with all of the shenanigans that seem to be happening around him ever since he decided to not take the Chicago Bulls’ extension offer in the 2014-2015 season, but he has not hinted that he has wanted to leave the Bulls nearly as recently as Paul George, who if you haven’t heard is hell-bent on leaving the Pacers. I know that he has been rumored to go to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, rather than their rival Boston Celtics, but I do not think that George would necessarily not enjoy going to the Celtics, as they are a really good team right now, rather than the Lakers who would possibly lose their chance to be good in the immediate future if they put an offer in for Paul George.
This category judges how much the Boston Celtics would potentially lose by attaining one of Butler, George or Hayward.
And although the probability of the Celtics actually attaining Hayward is the lowest, the Celtics definitely risk the least in doing so with him being a free agent. Sure, they probably would lose at least on of big men Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson or Kelly Olynyk, but ultimately this team would get a lot better and Hayward would be signed to a long term contract.
Then between Butler and George, the ruling becomes a bit more difficult as both of these players will be on the last year of their contracts in 2017-2018, and only available via trade, meaning the team would probably need to lose some sort of combination of Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and their 2017 and 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round draft picks. Being that the trade packages for one of Butler or George would be pretty similar and that I am not an “NBA insider,” I can’t really give insight on who is more likely to re-sign, and so I’m going to cop out and call this one a draw between Butler and George.
Final Ruling: Jimmy Butler>Paul George>Gordon Hayward
Being that Jimmy Butler and Paul George were proven in the categories to be better players than Gordon Hayward and the fact that he is more likely for the Boston Celtics to attain, I needed to give Butler and George the first and second spots.
Sure, Hayward is the least risky player for the Celtics to get, being that he is a free agent this year, but I legitimately think that this could be the year where the Celtics try to take a risk by trading for a superstar, instead of trying to sign one, as last year they came in with Kevin Durant expectations, but came out with an Al Horford, and the year before they came in with Kevin Love expectations and came out with Amir Johnson. If the Celtics want to win a championship in this era of their franchise, taking a chance on Butler or George and hoping that they will stay seems like the best option.
I picked Butler over George due to the fact that Butler was the slightly better player than George in the categories, leading in all of them, except for three-point shooting, which although coming in last, Butler has turned himself into a decent three-point shooter, and for the category of playing within the Celtics’ offense, he is still in second place to George’s third. If the Celtics really want to get better, and perhaps make a title run, they should definitely go for Jimmy Butler. Now they have the task of putting in a good offer.