Forget Lonzo and LaVar Ball speaking the Lakers into existence. Forget Markelle Fultz and the Process. Or, Jayson Tatum possibly imitating the game of Paul Pierce. Or a young Frenchman playing for his team’s title but first a short flight to NY for the Knicks to draft him. Or, all the Porzingis trade rumors that Phil manipulated to get attention. The draft was won by the Timberwolves shortly after the draft started and its freshman stars took their seats. The Timberwolves pulled off a stunner. It would be more correct to call it thievery. The last player drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft was the star of the 2017 draft. Jimmy Butler is Minneapolis bound.
The Wolves needed a defender. They needed a scorer. They needed toughness. It’s X-mas in June in Minneapolis.
Jimmy Butler’s defensive rating over his career is 104. He averaged 24 points a game last season. He is a perennial All-Star. He has propelled the Wolves into a likely playoff team in 2018. The combination of Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins is a Big Three, all under 30 years old. No one is saying they are the equal to Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, but the Wolves are actually relevant. They finally have the veteran Tom Thibodeau was desperate for and one he has coached.
The Wolves cleaned the Chicago Bulls clock twice. The first time was courtesy of the Bulls arrogance and falling on their sword. The Bulls made the questionable decision that Tom Thibodeau was doing more organizational harm than good, and they fired him. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Bulls leaked to the media that the players, in their exit interviews, were on board with the firing because workaholic Thibodeau had fatigued them to the point that they needed air. That was a huge moment in franchise history, May 28th, 2015. And a bigger moment for the Minnesota Timberwolves as Thibodeau walked into their front office a year later.
To be technical, the definition of karma is previous actions determining your fate. And so it is. That one moment on a May day two years ago set in motion this draft day stunner, the stealing of Jimmy Butler- who was shocked by the move- and handing him to the coach that admired him and believed in him and has proven he can win with him.
The Wolves helped themselves to the Bulls best coach since Phil Jackson and their second best player since Michael Jordan.
Butler was on the trade market (allegedly) because he didn’t get along with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. The three-time All-Star and two way player is a scorer who makes 45% of his shots. As far as on court impact for his position, he was ranked 2nd (Real Plus-Minus). It is estimated that he added 20.5 wins to the Bulls season this past year, 4th best at his position, trailing LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard (Estimated Wins Added).
Jimmy Butler was the Bulls best player all year long but stylistically he didn’t fit in with the type of actions Fred Hoibeg was dreaming of in his fantasy land of running and gunning and spacing the floor. Butler has all the trademarks of an iso player geared for half court offenses and the Bulls wanted to run and spread defenses out. He’s not a particularly skilled three point shooter but he has toughness, grit and he can drain mid-range shots as well as defend his position.
Minnesota gets all of that plus leadership. Leadership ala Jimmy Butler means he is not shy about calling players out. Last season, the Wolves had many a game of sleepwalking on defense. That’s not going to happen anymore, not if Jimmy Butler has anything to say about it.
There were many Wolves weak points last season. But field goal percentage defense damaged all playoff hopes; they were the third worst defense in the league. That is where Butler will have his biggest impact, guarding the best wing on the other team. Defensive effort is contagious, or so Tom Thibodeau hopes. As exciting as Zach LaVine was, he was exposed as an ineffective on-ball defender.
Butler makes end of games a puzzle for opposing defenses. Butler has made many game winning shots. Wiggins has made game winning shots. Towns is scary at the end of games.
Scary is what the Wolves are with Jimmy Butler, if they commit to Thibodeau’s principles. The West just got deeper and more dangerous. If all goes according to plan, the playoff drought is over in Minnesota. Jimmy Butler is the Wolves best player, a proven star. The future is now.
photo via llananba