The Runner Sports

Minnesota Timberwolves Acquire Jimmy Butler Via Trade

The Minnesota Timberwolves traded the seventh pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, shooting guard Zach LaVine, and point guard Kris Dunn for versatile small forward Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick. With the 16th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Wolves selected center Justin Patton (analysis of him to come). Butler is a three-time All-Star, three-time All-Defensive Team, and just last season received his first All-NBA Team nomination. He averaged 24 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals while shooting 46/37/87 (field goal, three-point, and free throw percentage respectively).

Butler and head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tom Thibodeau, have previous experience together as Thibodeau was head coach of Butler’s previous team, the Chicago Bulls. Thibodeau and Butler have a strong link as Thibodeau was one of the few people who saw that Butler would become more than a role player. One cool story which illustrates the strength of their relationship was reported by ESPN’s Ryen Russillo, who reported that when Butler reached his contract extension, the Bulls front office threatened to bench him indefinitely to lower Butler’s trade value. When Thibodeau heard this plan he refused to follow it and played Butler extended minutes and to this day the two have a strong relationship.

How can he fit in Offensively

Jimmy Butler is an explosive player who can play facing the basket and posting up, so the opposing team will send their best wing defender onto the bigger and stronger Butler. This will allow for Andrew Wiggins to bully the smaller wing defender and be more potent offensively, so we should expect a big improvement from Wiggins next season. The clip shown below displays Butler’s main strength as a willing cutter who can sneak backdoor for easy dunks; if met by a defender, he is agile enough to finish with a reverse layup. With a passing maestro like Ricky Rubio at point guard, Butler should be able to get the ball in tight situations and finish easily.

 

Butler is a hard worker and has put a lot of work into his jump shot which shows in the numbers as he has attempted more three-pointers with each of the past three seasons; improving his percentage from long range while doing so. However, a team of Rubio, Wiggins, Butler, Gorgui Dieng, and Karl-Anthony Towns is one that lacks shooting, so this may shrink the court. For the Wolves to take a big step forward, Butler needs to be consistent enough with his three-point shooting that defenders are forced to guard him tightly to prevent wide open shots. If this happens, then this will allow for Butler, who is a willing passer, to find the open man or blow past his defender for easy layups.

However, one reason to pause is the number of isolation plays that Butler called in his time in Chicago. The excellent Sports Synergy tracks every shot you take and classifies it. Butler called isolation plays an eye-watering 13.8% of the time (31st in league) last year in Chicago. This is worrying as isolation plays are the least efficient way to score in the NBA as they are predictable and make it easier to defend compared to a system like Golden state or San Antonio, where there is lots of ball movement to find the open man. If you combine Butler’s Iso plays with Towns (8.2%) then we may have offensive stagnation in Minnesota, but every stat needs context so this many not be too big of an issue. This is due to the fact that Butler was the primary scoring option in Chicago so was under pressure to score and reverted to iso plays to do that.

How will Butler fit in defensively

Butler’s biggest impact will be on the defensive end as the three-time All-Defensive Team member fully understands the Thibodeau defensive system. The Wolves were a bottom 10 defense and the acquisition of Butler will go a long way in solving this issue. Butler is 6-foot-7, 220 pounds of muscle who is hard to move off his mark so he will get the defensive assignment of the others team’s best wing player. Previously, this was Wiggins’ duty and although he has the tools to become a good defender in the league, Wiggins was often exploited by opposing coaches who sought to pursue mismatches with bigger and stronger wings. This will no longer be the case as Butler has the strength to go up against the best and most powerful wings in the league.

In this defense highlight video for Jimmy Butler in the Eastern Conference semifinals, his defense is shown to be at an elite level against one of the greatest players to ever play, LeBron James. He is quick enough to react to crossovers and stay in front of the offensive player. If the attacker tries to blow past Jimmy, he has the reflexes to follow him up and block the shot. To do this while avoiding any hand check or other shooting fouls is due to Butler’s basketball IQ; many other players who would have been called for a foul for the tight defense that Butler employs.

Exciting times ahead in Minnesota

Let’s be clear this was a stunning triumph of a trade for the Minnesota Timberwolves as they managed to acquire a superstar player and get a first-round draft pick from Chicago. For a team which has the second worst attendance, Jimmy Butler will help to get bums into seats and increase the excitement around a team and city which has been dead for some time. Jimmy Butler has two years left on his deal and if the Wolves are able to show him that they are contending team in the league then it should not be too hard for them to convince Butler to re-sign in two years. Butler is a player who demands the best from his teammates and he will be vocal about that. Minnesota is a young team and has no real leader in the locker room, but with Butler coming to Minnesota he will be the de facto leader of the team for the next couple of years.  It’s an exciting time to be a Wolves fan.

Mustafa Noor

Mustafa Noor

Writer at Runner sports
London based writer covering the Minnesota Timberwolves for the runner sports. Mustafa is well aware that the Timberwolves have not made the playoffs for 13 straight years
Mustafa Noor