As we approach this year's trade deadline, the annual buzz around the Boston Celtics and their plethora of assets has reached a fever pitch. If the notoriously stingy Danny Ainge found himself willing to part with his prized draft picks, many believe that he could land one of the top two-way stars in the Eastern Conference, Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
Of the two players, many Celtics fans seem to prefer trading for George rather than Butler for similar packages. To put it bluntly, this would be a mistake. This is no disrespect to Paul George, who's an excellent player and without question the centerpiece of the Indiana Pacers. Jimmy is just better, and by a fairly good margin.
If the Celtics want to add the player that can best bolster their chances against LeBron James and his Cavaliers, that player should be Butler, not George.
Looking at raw per game averages is usually never the way to go, but at first glance, Jimmy wins out here by a hair. He averages 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game compared to 22.3, 6.2, and 3.3 for PG13. It’s still close enough you could still make an argument for either guy; but Jimmy has George beat in pretty much every single advanced metric there is.
Jimmy’s PER is 7(!) points higher, 25.5 to 18.6. His TS% is at 58.9% to George's 57%, despite PG being the more accomplished three-point shooter. Jimmy also gets to the free throw line at over twice the rate of PG, with a .582 FTr to George’s .279. His playmaking has taken a leap and his assist rate is at a career-high 23.1% to PG's 15.5%, despite having a slightly lower usage rate. He's giving the ball away less, owning a 9.3% TO rate in comparison to George’s 12.7% and committing just 2.9 TOs per 100 possessions to 3.9.
Jimmy even wins out all the more obscure stats; Win Shares (9.2 to 3.7), WS per 48 minutes (.236 to .100), Box Plus Minus (6.4 to 1.5), and VORP (4.0 to 1.6). There can be some noise in cherry picked individual stats, but Jimmy is beating him out in almost every category; and by a lot.
It’s not just in the individual numbers where Jimmy excels, either. His contributions to the team’s success far outweigh that of PG as well. When Butler is on the court, the Bulls have a +3.0 NetRtg, meaning the Bulls score an average of 3 more points than the opponent when Butler is on the floor. When he sits, the Bulls have -10.0 NetRtg, by far the lowest on the team. For comparison’s sake, the 9-47 Brooklyn Nets have a -8.1 NetRtg overall. You’re reading that correctly; the Bulls are worse than a 9-47 team in the minutes that Jimmy Butler is on the bench.
The Pacers have a +1.8 NetRtg when George is on the floor, and -5.9 with him off. Those are solid numbers and the mark of a great player, but they aren’t even the best marks on his team. Sophomore stud Myles Turner beats him out in both departments there, at +2.3 and -6.5, respectively.
That turns our attention to both teams’ respective rosters. Jimmy is putting up significantly better numbers surrounded by guys that don’t fit next to him, non-shooters like Dwyane Wade, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez. In contrast, the Pacers’ roster is built around George, with a litany of complementary players and shooters up and down the lineup.
One can only wonder what Jimmy would be able to do if the Bulls’ front office viewed him for what he’s worth, and surrounded him with guys that bring out the best of his incredible skills. Instead, they’ve put big name players that don’t fit next to him because they don’t think he can carry them himself.
Jimmy Butler is arguably a top-10 player in the NBA. The Celtics would be foolish to trade for George if they could potentially acquire Butler for the same package, and likewise, the Bulls would be foolish to ask for anything less than the absolute mother load for him, especially on his bargain contract. Again, there’s no disrespect meant to Paul George here; you just can’t film flam the Jim Jam.