The real Lamont Butler has arrived
Over the years, San Diego State has been a program filled with unique athletes that defy convention. Among the myriad of positionless players, two have stood out as truly one-of-a-kind unicorns. Kawhi Leonard is the most famous example. In the history of basketball, finding a suitable comparison to the former SDSU star is challenging. Malik Pope is the other. Pope’s unique physical gifts and skills led him to a professional career that continues to this day.
The 2022-2023 Aztecs have two unicorns on it, Aguek Arop and Lamont Butler. Injuries have prevented Arop from fully exploring his genius. Through three games, there are signs Butler is finally comfortable and confident in his own skin. As an underclassman, Butler’s youth, selflessness, willingness to be coached, and his role on the team caged some of his uniqueness. Unleashed this season as one of the stars on the 17th-ranked team in the country, Butler is impacting the game like few players at his position. He is playing like a unicorn.
Butler stands out from Leonard, Pope, and Arop. They are taller with the ability to play inside or out. Bulter has the quickness of a smaller point guard, the explosiveness of an athletic shooting guard, and the bulk of a small forward. This package of talent allowed Brian Dutcher to match Butler (6’2 195lbs) against Harrison Ingram (6’7 230lbs). Ingram, a five-star recruit and the 19th-rated player overall in the class of 2021, was unable to use his superior size to his advantage.
After fitting in and complementing older players the past couple of years, Butler has been given the keys to the team. Watching his game develop is among the most fascinating stories this year. There is no one like Lamont Butler, and the more he develops what makes him unique, the better the Aztecs will be.
“We played a good first half,” Dutcher said postgame. “I thought our point guard play was really good. The fact that Darrion and Lamont had 12 assists and only one turnover was great. When they play like that, when they take care of the ball and get everybody involved, we are hard to guard, so they did a really good job.”
The second unit is what separates the Aztecs.
Jaedon LeDee has arguably been SDSU’s best player over the first three games. He has led the Aztecs in scoring in the past two contests. Coming off the bench, he provides a noticeable scoring and energy burst, but he is not alone. Micah Parrish has been sensational off the bench. Adam Seiko easily had his best game of the season against Stanford. Rounding out the bench players, Arop continues to provide valuable minutes and winning plays each contest.
The starters played together for the first 5:07 of the first half and left the game with a 7-5 advantage. It was the only time in the opening 20 minutes they would be on the floor together. Stanford actually outscored SDSU’s starters by three in the second half. Most of the Aztecs’ advantage Tuesday occurred when Ledee (+23), Seiko (+20), and Parrish (+16) were on the court. Postgame, Dutcher spoke about extending his bench even more.
“I’ve got three guys that can play but haven’t been on the floor yet,” Dutcher said. “Elijah Saunders, Miles Byrd, and Demarshay Johnson Jr., they can all play, and I feel awful I haven’t got them a minute yet, but these kids can all play. I’ve got a deep roster, and I have to take advantage of that.”
Where are the second chance points?
Following SDSU’s closed-door scrimmage against UCLA, where the Aztecs outrebounded the Bruins by ten on the offensive glass leading to 25 second-chance points, many predicted SDSU would be among the better rebounding teams in the nation. Through three games that has yet to materialize. SDSU has actually been outrebounded 33.3 to 32.0 per game. They have given up more second-chance points than they have scored in two of the three contests. Overall, their opponents have a 34 to 26 edge in the category.
The advantage SDSU’s opposition has had on the glass is due in large part to opportunity. In the pair of contests where the Aztecs’ opposition outscored them on the offensive glass, SDSU shot much better from the field. Nonetheless, postgame Stanford head coach Jerod Haase said keeping the Aztecs from scoring off their own misses was one of the keys to the game plan. The Cardinal won this key area 11-0 on Tuesday and turned an excellent defensive performance into an above-average one.
“We guard hard,” Dutcher said. “That’s the one thing if teams get baskets on us, they usually deserve them. You know, I thought the one thing we didn’t do well was rebound. We gave them a lot of second-chance opportunities. We forced a lot more misses, but they did a good job on the offensive glass, and that’s something we need to clean up. We are too big and strong to give that many second chance opportunities.”