Caron Butler wasn't originally thrilled by the idea of coming off the bench for the Washington Wizards. The high-energy forward -- the key element in the trade that sent Kwame Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer -- has been a starter his entire basketball life and expected to be one with Washington.

However, Butler's willingness to accept his role has provided the Wizards with a scoring boost off the bench and has made Butler an early candidate for the NBA's sixth man of the year award. Butler is averaging 15 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 46.1 percent from the floor for the Wizards, who are 7-8 heading into tomorrow night's game against the Toronto Raptors at MCI Center.

Butler has been a tough matchup for several opponents who have been forced to use second-unit defenders against him, and Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan has often kept him on the floor with starters and primary scorers Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison in the fourth quarter.

According to the Web site www.82games.com, Washington has a plus/minus rating of plus-23 when the five-man unit of Arenas, Jamison, Butler, center Brendan Haywood and guard Antonio Daniels are on the floor together.

Two of Butler's biggest games helped the Wizards to victories. He scored 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting in a Nov. 11 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics and had 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting in a Nov. 25 road win over the Detroit Pistons. Butler posted another 27-point game during Friday night's 105-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. That game carried special meaning for Butler, a Racine, Wis., native who was excited because many friends and family were able to watch the game back home.

"I really wanted to get this one, and I thought we played well enough to win but they just had a guy who was feeling it," Butler said in reference to Bucks guard Maurice Williams, who scored a game-high 35 points and hit a game-winning three-pointer to beat the buzzer. "We're in one of those ruts right now where things aren't going our way but we have to fight through and keep playing. We've got a lot of character guys on this team. We'll stick together."

Butler's professional approach was a major reason why the Wizards signed him to a five-year contract extension before the start of the season, and his willingness to accept his new role has helped Jordan piece together a rotation.

Although Butler is the Wizards' sixth man, he is still playing starter's minutes. He averages 28.2 minutes per game, tied with Haywood for third on the team behind Arenas (40.6) and Jamison (38.2).

"We like having Caron come in with our second unit because he brings that energy and scoring," Jordan said. "He can come in and be aggressive. That's what we want with that second unit."

Ramos Looks Good

Second-year center Peter John Ramos had a strong performance on Saturday for Roanoke, the Wizards' NBA Development League affiliate. Ramos scored a season-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots in 32 minutes for the Dazzle, which lost, 113-109, to the Florida Flame.

In six games with Roanoke, Ramos is averaging 11.7 points and 9.7 rebounds. The Wizards have assigned a coach, Ron Ganulin, to work with Ramos and have plans to bring him back to Washington for a few practices at some point during the season. Ramos is the only Wizard currently assigned to the NBDL but the team has the option of assigning rookies Andray Blatche and Donell Taylor. Blatche has appeared in two games. Taylor has appeared in one.

Caron Butler has become a valuable contributor off the bench for the Wizards. Despite not starting, Butler is third on the team in scoring and in minutes played.