Caron Butler arrived in Oklahoma City with an inkling that he’d get some playing time.
But this much, this early? Not sure anyone could have expected that.
Since his arrival, Butler has averaged 27 minutes in his four games. Other than the Thunder’s big three – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka – that’s easily the most of any OKC player during that stretch.
Forget about easing him in. Coach Scott Brooks has immediately given Butler a starter’s share of the playing time.
“I’m not surprised,” Brooks said, when asked about how quickly Butler has carved out such a substantial rotation role. “I’m excited about what he brings us.”
Excited enough to not only give him big minutes, but give him important minutes.
In two of the past three games, Butler has been in the closing five.
And alongside him has been a lineup that we can probably expect to see more of in the future: Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka, Butler and Derek Fisher.
It played the final 5:41 in Phoenix and the final 8:03 during Tueday’s win over Houston. Against the Suns, it was unable to crawl out of a four-point hole. Against the Rockets, it sealed a crucial win.
“I like it,” Brooks said. “It gives us good experience.”
How much experience? On a roster known for its youth, it’s a five-man lineup that’s logged a combined 48 years of NBA time.
And that’s why, late in tight games, it projects as a group that Brooks will continue to trust. He’ll always close with his three stars. We already know how he feels about Fisher. And it seems he’s developing similar admiration for Butler’s intangibles.
Late in the game on Tuesday, with the Thunder up eight, Westbrook secured a James Harden miss and tossed it up the court to a wide-open Butler. As Butler corralled it around the 3-point line, all alone, Brooks strolled down the sideline to ask for no shot. Butler was already ahead of him, pulling the ball back out, getting it to Westbrook and milking another 20 seconds off the clock.
Brooks gave a mini fist pump and headed back toward the bench.
“He went out there and played basketball the right way,” Brooks said after Butler’s first game in a Thunder uniform. “If he had a shot, he took it. If he had a pass, he passed it. And we have to continue to add that mentality to our team.”
But beyond coach-player trust, this latest closing five is a group that fits together quite nicely on the court, particularly against smaller teams.
Ibaka has proven to be a capable small-ball center. Durant is a matchup nightmare at the power forward. Fisher is shooting nearly 50 percent from three the past couple months. Westbrook is Westbrook. And Butler has proven to be a consistent enough outside shooter since his arrival.
Two of the world’s best attackers, two veteran floor spacers and one of the NBA’s best pick and pop, pick and roll big men.
Say hello to the Thunder’s newest closing five.