The Butler Bulldogs have undergone some major turnover this offseason, potentially losing two of their expected starters on the wing unexpectedly–while reportedly just adding a grad transfer at guard.
With all of the musical chairs that has taken place, here’s a sneak peek at what Butler’s projected starting lineup could look like next season:
Point Guard: Aaron Thompson (Sr.)
Arguably the Bulldogs’ most valuable player last year, the 6’2″, 185 pound senior point guard will be the undisputed leader of Butler’s squad next season–as its starting floor general for a fourth straight season.
Thompson averaged 7.2 ppg., 2.9 rpg., and 4.7 apg. during 32.4 mpg. last season in 27 starts–having missed some time with a wrist injury.
Thompson is one of the best perimeter defenders at guard in the entire country–as he simply smothers the opposition.
While he has limited outside range, Thompson makes up for it with his ability to consistently get into the paint and either drive-and-dish to his open teammates (when the defense collapses) or hit floaters, tear drops, and layups around the rim.
Opposing guards simply have a tough time staying in front of him defensively–meaning he can create havoc with paint penetration.
Thompson has a high basketball I.Q. and can be trusted to consistently make the right basketball decision. He’s one of the better starting point guards Butler has had in its program history.
Shooting Guard: Jair Bolden (R.Sr.)
The 6’3″, 215 pound grad transfer guard is the newest addition to the Bulldogs–having recently transferred from South Carolina.
Bolden averaged 8.5 ppg., 2.4 rpg., and 1.4 apg. in 21.4 mpg. during 30 games (15 starts) this past season.
Bolden has the versatility to play either guard spot, as he started 15 games for the Gamecocks last season as their starting point guard. (That could help Butler, who struggled at times without a true backup point guard last season).
Bolden’s an excellent outside shooter–having shot .412 from 3 point range last season–with the ability to not just catch-and-shoot, but pull-up in rhythm from anywhere off the bounce.
He should be an excellent complement to Thompson in the Bulldogs’ starting backcourt with his ability to consistently hit shots from deep.
Bolden is a capable perimeter defender, but will need to show more consistency on the defensive end.
Small Forward: Jordan Tucker (Sr.) or Scooby Johnson (Fr.)
This is where it gets most interesting for Butler in next year’s starting five.
Would-be senior forward Jordan Tucker has declared his intentions to leave early to pursue an NBA career–but hasn’t completely closed the door on returning to Butler next season if he doesn’t like what he ultimately hears from pro scouts.
The 6’7″, 220 pound ‘super sixth man’ for Butler last season, averaged 8.9 ppg., 3.8 rpg., and 0.7 apg. in 22.7 mpg. during 30 games (5 starts).
Tucker was one of the Bulldogs’ best outside shooters last season–as he shot .357 from three point range, but admittedly, he can be a bit streaky at times.
Still, when Tucker is feeling it, he can put up three point buckets in a hurry, and he has the ability to pull-up from anywhere along the perimeter.
Where Tucker needs to improve is in his consistency shooting, while also sharpening his handles and improving around the rim when he drives.
Tucker has the prototypical size to flourish around the rim, but needs to show better body control, timing, and strength finishing.
That being said, he’s made major strides with Butler defensively–as he was heavily relied upon in critical game situations this past season, and he’s displayed toughness as it relates to crashing the glass for rebounds.
If his handles and around the rim game can improve like his defense and rebounding already has, then Tucker could be an All-Big East caliber of scorer for the Bulldogs–as the natural talent is there.
In fact, the former Duke transfer was potentially projected to be the Bulldogs’ leading scorer next season, so his possible loss is a big one.
If Tucker indeed departs, the Bulldogs may heavily rely on 4-star high school recruit and freshman forward Scooby Johnson.
The 6’6″, 210 pound forward was recently awarded “2020 Mr. Michigan Basketball”, as per Michigan Live:
“This season, Johnson led the 20-2 (Benton Harbor) Tigers to the district finals by averaging a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds per game before the season was suspended due to coronavirus concerns. He also averaged 5.9 assists, 3 blocks, and 3 steals per contest.”
For his age, Johnson can do a lot of everything very well and while it’s normally difficult to count upon freshman for key roles, he’s said to be very polished already–with the potential to contribute immediately for the Bulldogs next season.
Still, the difference between the two alternatives at starting small forward is stark for the Bulldogs: one an experienced battle-tested senior shooter or two, a highly touted all-around, but still unproven freshman.
Power Forward: Bryce Nze (Sr.)
The former transfer from Milwaukee was a revelation for the Bulldogs at starting power forward in his debut season last year.
Nze averaged 9.2 ppg., 6.6 rpg., and 1.4 apg. in 28.7 mpg. during 31 starts this past season.
While slightly undersized, the 6’7″, 235 pound power forward uses his positioning, leverage, and quick low post moves to score around the rim–as he’s displayed a nice inside game for Butler.
He’s also a proven passer for the Bulldogs with the ability to help facilitate the offense from the inside or top of the key. (His ability to handle the basketball has also been a bonus for the Bulldogs in its press breakers.)
Nze plays with energy and toughness, and he’s an asset rebounding on both ends of the glass.
He also helps the Bulldogs defensively with his versatility, as he has the ability to hedge and hold his own when switching to guards on pick ‘n rolls.
Nze may get blocked once around the rim per game, and he needs to cut down on the turnovers at times by being more careful with the basketball, but he should be a rock solid starting power forward for Butler once again.
Center: Bryce Golden (Jr.)
Along with Nze, Bryce Golden was another really pleasant surprise in the Bulldogs’ starting frontcourt last season.
The 6’9″, 250 pound sophomore big man averaged 7.9 ppg., 3.9 rpg., and 1.1 apg. in 21.4 mpg. during 31 starts.
It was easy to see that Golden had put in a lot of work in the previous offseason, as he transformed his body and showed an improved inside game–along with a developing three point shot.
He’s the type of big bodied, rugged big man that Butler hasn’t historically had through the years (Tyler Wideman being the other), but he displays more of a low post game and outside touch–with slightly less defense (although Golden is still a good defender as a big man in his own right).
With Golden, the issue is offensive consistency. He has shown the tools offensively to be a future Big East force as a big man, but he’ll need to continue to develop his low post game and outside jumper–the latter which would really help space the floor for the Bulldogs next season.
The Butler big man could take another big leap this offseason, but either way, he’s an easy one to pencil in as the Bulldogs’ starting center once again given his solid play last season.
All-in-all, with Bolden’s addition, Butler has a very experienced starting lineup as four of its five projected starters are all upperclassmen (and at least three of its five starters are returning).
There also the possibility that if Tucker returns, all five of Butler’s starters could be upperclassmen–with what would be a very polished 5-man starting squad.
Even if Tucker doesn’t return, Butler would have another scholarship to play around with (and the chance for another immediate impact transfer that could make a difference from the get-go).
Worst case, Johnson could take over the starting small forward reins (which isn’t a bad thing), and while there’s expected to be some growing pains–as he’ll be green as a freshman, he has the all-around skill-set to contribute immediately as their fifth starter.
Either way, it’s a Butler starting lineup that should be largely experienced and fairly competitive in the Big East next season–with the chance to sneak into the NCAA Tournament late in the year.