Last week, Florida State men’s basketball team reeled in yet another 2021 blue-chip recruit, this time in the form of South Carolina seven-footer John Butler. If you’ve followed FSU hoops it should be no surprise that Leonard Hamilton and company convinced a player standing over 84 inches to join the ‘Noles. In fact, this is the second 7+ footer to commit to the 2021 class, with Naheem McLeod already in the fold.
But not all big men bring the same skill set to Tallahassee. Some, like Jon Kreft , are massive screen-setters who do the dirty work underneath that doesn’t always make a box score. Some, like Christ Koumadje, are rim protectors who double as easy targets to throw down lobs from penetrating point guards. And others still, like current Seminole Balsa Koprivica, are skilled passers who can score with a variety of shots and gobble up offensive rebounds.
So which type is John Butler? Well, he sort of breaks the mold. I’m not ready to call him a unicorn, but depending on his continued progression—and his ability to add weight—he certainly brings a unique skill set to the table.
Above you can watch his junior season highlight tape. We will use that to discuss Butler’s strengths, since after all, this is a highlight tape.
Length: The most immediate attribute that jumps off the screen is Butler’s length. Listed around 7’1, Butler is obviously tall. But more than that, he is long, with a wingspan that is at least 7’3 or 7’4. This allows Butler to be quite disruptive on defense, not just as a shot blocker (where you would expect a 7 footer to make a difference) but also in passing lanes. A coaches son, Butler uses his length well too, not bringing his arms down into shooters very often and instead keeping them tall so that even if the shot isn’t blocked it’s at least altered. As a bonus, he appears to play with an aggressive mentality, which is always nice to see from a shot blocker.
Vision and passing ability: Honestly, this is probably the part of Butler’s game that gives me the most excitement. He demonstrates strong court vision and awareness of where his teammates will be, not just where they are, but where they will be. And I’m not saying this like, “oh for a big man he can pass.” No, the dude can flat out drop a dime. That creates some tremendous potential if he can hit a guy like Bryce McGowens or Matthew Cleveland who is cutting to the basket for an easy slam.
Handles: Dare I say #BigGuardU?! Butler can dribble. In the tape above (and others on the web) you can see him crossing over defenders while setting up a drive or shot. Similar to RaiQuan Gray, he is more than capable of grabbing a defensive rebound and starting the break himself.
Shooting: For this one, I’m going to differentiate his actual shooting results, from his shot itself. The results are solid, as Butler demonstrates range out to 22 feet. This would be nice to help space the floor and even allow FSU to play some 5-out ball on offense if they wanted to, given Butler’s dribbling and passing abilities.
Areas for Growth:
Above you can find video of Butler going heads up against Obinna Anochili-Killen, a 6’8/6’9 200 pound recruit in the 2020 class who signed with Marshall. Now, Butler does some nice things in this game, including getting the better of Anochili-Killen on a couple of blocks. But sometimes actual game tape is better to point out areas of growth than highlight tapes, so that’s what we are using it for.
Strength and Weight: As much as Butler’s length helps him, his lack of strength and weight is holding him back. You can see times in this game where the stronger and older prospect just bodies Butler out of the way. It’s still more than a year before Butler arrives in Tallahassee, so obviously a lot can happen. But as of today, Butler would likely need to redshirt and spend a year adding muscle to his base.
Finishing through contact: Some of this goes back to strength, but in both videos we can see examples of Butler getting to the rim but unable to play through contact. Fortunately, his shot is decent so he’s not going 0-2 at the stripe, but you’d much rather have a guy completing an and-one than going to the line for two.
Shot Duration: Butler can shoot the ball. But his results are best when he’s balanced and establishes a strong base, and as of right now this can take him a while to do. It’s fine at the stripe where there are no defenders, but it limits his impact as a three point shooter because he has to be pretty wide open to get into his shot.
What does it all mean?
Ultimately, FSU is getting a uniquely skilled 7-footer who will be able to impact the game defensively while also spacing the floor and setting up teammates to make plays. However, his floor might be a bit lower than most top 75 recruits due to his need to add considerable strength. While it’s certainly possible (maybe even likely) that Butler doesn’t see meaningful action as a Seminole until the 2022-2023 season, bringing him in with McLeod and allows him to develop at a pace that will get him closer to his ceiling and doesn’t risk bad habits forming due to being overmatched physically early in his career.
The four-star recruit is Florida State’s third blue-chipper in the 2021 class, which is the first time that’s happened since 2016 when Jonathan Isaac, Trent Forrest, and CJ Walker all inked with the ‘Noles (an unknown kid named Mfiondu Kabengele also signed that year). That 2016 class finished 4th in the country, while the 2021 class is currently tops in the land.
Of course, the 2021 class isn’t finished yet. In fact, it could possibly get even better on Sunday as combo-guard Jalen Warley announces his college destination. Will Warley join Butler in garnet and gold?