Rasual Butler caught the pass in transition from Bradley Beal, leaped off the Verizon Center floor, deftly finger-rolled the basketball through the hoop and looked down at his right hand, staring at it as he trotted to the other end of the floor as if the play were unexpected.
“I had to finish the plays for us,” Butler said after his Washington Wizards defeated the Sacramento Kings Saturday night. “Brad made a good play so I just put a little extra on it.”
Those kind of sequences were routine for Butler over the season’s first three months, when he went from 35-year-old training camp invitee to indispensable cog during the Wizards’ fast start. Through Jan. 9, Butler was averaging 10.3 points per game. The swingman was shooting 48.6 percent from the floor and a scorching 49.6 percent from three. He reached double figures in 13 of the 32 games he appeared in.
Butler’s production has plummeted in the Wizards’ 29 games since. He’s averaged six points, shot 35.6 percent from the field, including just 25.3 percent from beyond the arc. He’s reached double digits in scoring just four times. The Wizards are 13-17 during the stretch.
But the early-season Butler appeared Saturday. He netted 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including going 2 of 4 from the three-point line. It was his first game with multiple three-pointers since Feb. 9 and a flashback to what he was doing for a couple months earlier this season.
“I was feeling good tonight,” Butler said. “It’s been a while so it was just really night to step in tonight and give us a boost. We’re better when we get everybody to contribute like that. When we get six, seven guys in double figures, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Butler’s initial production was unexpected but has proven vital for the Wizards. Washington was banking on Martell Webster to shoulder some of the load whenever Butler’s play inevitably dropped off. But Webster has not been able to find a rhythm since returning from his third back surgery in four years in late December.
Without Butler or Webster providing steady contributions, the Wizards bench doesn’t feature a consistent three-point threat to spread the floor, which allows defenses to clog the paint to collapse on big men and limit driving lanes. The reality was evident when Washington was without Beal and Paul Pierce, the team’s starting wing players, for two games and lost to two of the worst teams in the NBA, the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves.
“He’s huge for us,” Pierce said of Butler. “You talk about a guy that can stretch the defense, a perimeter threat. And when he’s playing well like that, it gives me a lot of rest. I was able to sit for the fourth quarter and just watch us enjoy the win. Usually if I’m sitting the fourth quarter, we’re up 20 or down 20.”
On Saturday, Pierce got to watch Butler help fuel the Wizards’ comeback. Down 21 points in the third quarter and one entering the final period, Butler played the entire fourth quarter, posting seven points and four rebounds in the 12 minutes.
“As I told them, I’m not going to lose faith in you,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I’m going to keep throwing bodies out there. It’s going to happen and Rasual’s gone through a tough stretch. I thought he had bounce in his legs tonight.”
And that is when the Wizards are at their best.