Watching Butler as he unveils a series of twisting, corkscrew moves around the hoop, or seeing him deftly tip a ball away from an opponent to start a fast break, "unathletic" might be the last term you'd apply to him. However, the New Jersey sophomore views himself in those terms, which led to the development of a variety of spins, pump fakes and other balletic movements that have him third on the team in scoring.
"Honestly, I am not the most athletic person in the world," Butler said with a grin. "I started noticing it when I was younger. I'd lay the ball up and get my shot blocked, and it happened plenty of times."
Spurred by those playground rejections, Butler began developing a series of moves to throw defenders off balance. Pump fake. Drop step. Step back. Spin. Pivot. All old school moves, but blended together in a manner that confounds even the savviest of defenders.
Also helping Butler is the fact that his offensive repertoire has fit in well with the schemes of both of his collegiate coaches. Under John Beilein, Butler was able to come off screens and get the ball to the hoop, while in the Huggins system he is able to use his ball skills more off the dribble and the offensive glass. Either way, however, he has been a success, and he hasn't had to change much about his game since the arrival of Huggins.
"We have a coach now who likes us to go inside, and he stresses pump fakes and finishing strong," said Butler, who obviously relishes the chances that system provides for him. "That's one thing I am trying to do right now."
It's tough to quantify Butler's offensive game in general. He can step out and hit the three (he leads the team with a 50% success rate) but he has only taken 14 such shots in eight games. He gets his share of putbacks and second chance points, in a manner reminiscent of another undersized forward, WVU stalwart Damian Owens. He can slash to the basket and finish with an acrobatic move, but doesn't force the action (he has the fewest turnovers of any starter). But there's one thing – those moves – that come into play in almost every facet of the game.
Like a magician hiding his secrets, Butler isn't going to describe what he's thinking or the things he does to set up each opponent. However, he is willing to provide a couple of generalities.
"I'll do a spin move, and if I see someone ahead of me, I'll give them a pump fake," he said of a typical foray to the hoop. "If they jump, I go into them. If they don't jump, I'll give them another one, and then go up."
Of course, that's not a set pattern. Nor does Butler limit himself to just one or two moves before trying a shot. It's all about creating an opening to the basket, and he'll do whatever is required – even if it means stringing four or five moves together – to get to the rim.
Much of what Butler does is predicated on what the defender does. Just as West Virginia's players read the defense's reaction to a screen or the movement of the ball, so too does Butler when he is one-on-one, or in the lane with a chance to score.
"It's all off reactions," Butler said of his moves. "It's off a read I make on the defender. I'm just trying to read players and see what they do, and it is working right now."
That may be a bit of an understatement. Although Butler often treads inside against bigger foes, he leads West Virginia in shooting at 62%. Part of that is due to his decision-making (he also probably leads the team in fewest bad shot attempts), but it also goes back to his mindset when shooting the ball.
"I just want to make every shot," he said with determination. "Whenever I miss my first shot, I kind of get upset. I think about not missing any. Right now, I am shooting well, but you know that you might come back to reality soon. You are going to miss some shots, but you just have to let it roll off and come back on the next one."