2016-17 result: 31-51. 13th in the Western Conference.
ransactions: The Timberwolves forever altered the course of their franchise and sped up their development process on draft night with an absolute blockbuster deal when they sent Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the 7th overall pick in the NBA Draft to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for superstar Jimmy Butler and the 16th overall pick in the draft in one of the greatest fleece jobs of all-time ever.
It’s not enough that Minnesota got a 28 year old superstar at the height of his powers but they also kept a first round pick.
In Butler, the Wolves have got a three time all-star coming off statistically the best season of his career where he averaged 23.9 points on 45.5% shooting, 6.2 boards, 5.5 assists and 1.9 steals. He’s also under contract for another two seasons, which makes the low cost even more outrageous. Especially when you consider the massive haul that the Boston Celtics had to give up for Kyrie Irving.
This is an acquisition that changes the entire conversation about a team. With Butler, the Timerwolves are suddenly relevant. Suddenly they have the best one two punch that the organization has ever seen with Butler paired with 21 year old phenom Karl-Anthony Towns. Expectations are now radically different. The ceiling of where this team can finish has been blown off. Minnesota is now an attractive destination for free agents and a team that will compete.
That’s how much this trade means to the organization.
Butler also immediately addresses the team’s biggest weakness: defense. He’s one of the best two way players in the game and an elite wing defender. He’s a nasty, tough, relentless defender who earned his way into the NBA not with his offensive skills (which developed much later) but for his prowess as a stopper. That’s what endeared him to Tom Thibodeau in Chicago and paved the way for him to become an NBA superstar.
Now he’s reunited with coach Thibs in Minnesota and can shut down the opposing team’s best player while dropping 20 points as a second option behind KAT. Butler is an incredibly selfish superstar who is as quick to facilitate and share the ball as he is to score. He has played alongside stars before and made them better. His impact on Towns and Andrew Wiggins will be immeasurable.
Butler was arguably the best Bull since Michael Jordan and now he comes to a team that’s been a perennial loser since that franchise’s best player Kevin Garnett departed for Boston. They’re riding a 13 year streak without a playoff appearance. Once that will likely end this year with the addition of one of the best players in the NBA.
The impact that Jimmy Buckets brings with him cannot be overstated. Barring an injury, Minnesota is absolutely returning to the playoffs. Using real plus/minus as a tool, Butler directed swung the Bulls record by 18 wins last season. Without him they would have been one of the worst teams in the NBA. With him they made the playoffs. The only players who had a bigger impact on their teams in that sense were Steph Curry and LeBron James. He was also the fifth highest value over replacement player in the NBA last season.
That’s what adding a superstar can do for your team.
The domino effect of adding a star of that magnitude hit quickly for the Timberwolves. In the wake of the Butler trade, they made the decision to move on from Ricky Rubio, shipping him to Utah in exchange for a first round pick in the 2018 draft. They then replaced Rubio with one of the bigger names on the point guard free agent market in Jeff Teague on a three year, $57 million deal.
The addition of a player who can facilitate from the wing as well as Butler, allows the Wolves to go in this direction. Teague is not the passer that Rubio is but he’s a much better scorer. Rubio is coming off the best offensive season of his career 11.1 points on 40.6% shooting including 30.6% from three point range, but is still only a career 37.5% shooter. Teague, on the other hand, scored 15.3 points per game off of 44.2% shooting including 35.7% from three point range. His 7.8 assists per game may not compare to Rubio’s incredible passing and court vision, but he’s more than capable of finding the open man.
The one-time all-star will excel in the pick-and-roll with Minnesota as he contributed .98 points per possession as the p-and-r ball-handler with the Pacers last season. Numbers that should increase when on the floor with Wiggins, Towns and Butler. He’s also able to create his own shot and was 47% percent on pull-up jumpers last season which will add a new wrinkle to the Wolves offense.
It’s going to be almost a completely different look to what Rubio offered, but one that fits a team that picked up an elite ball-handling wing in Butler. The Timberwolves will now have the ability to play with spacing and different line-up combinations as a result.
Coach Thibs is also going to be reunited with another one of his favourites from his time in Chicago as Taj Gibson is coming to Minnesota on a two year, $28 million deal. Gibson’s arrival is another clear sign that the Wolves are going to embrace a more defense oriented mentality as Taj is a punishing defender who is familiar with and capable of executing all of Thibodeau’s defensive schemes. He also adds a nice veteran presence to the team and will form an excellent tandem at power forward with Gorgui Dieng.
Splash Uncle Jamal Crawford signed with the Timberwolves after being waived by the Atlanta Hawks in the wake of a three team deal that saw Denver acquire Paul Millsap and the Clippers get Danilo Gallinari. Crawford signed with the team on a 2 year, $8.9 million deal and will bolster the scoring for what was the least productive bench unit in the NBA last season. Even at 37 years old, J Crossover is still a dynamic scorer and averaged 16.8 points per 36 minutes off the bench for the Clippers last season. He’s still got the ability to get open and create his own shot and three time Sixth Man of the Year credentials.
The Wolves also brought back wing Shabazz Muhammad on a veteran minimum. The 24 year old is entering his fifth NBA season and averaged 9.9 points off the bench for the Wolves last season. He doesn’t offer much in the way of range as he’s only a 32.3% three point shooter and will likely see his bench role decreased further with the addition of Butler.
2017 NBA Draft: With the 16th pick in the NBA Draft, Minnesota selected Justin Patton out of Creighton who stands at 7’0” and weighs in at 230 pounds with a 7’3” wingspan. After red shirting as a freshman, Patton exploded onto the scene last season and established himself as one of the most efficient big men in college hoops.
He’s an exceptional athlete with a good first step who operates well in transition. Patton is already a quality defender who was one of the best shot blockers in the NCAA last season. In addition to his ability to protect the rim, he’s an excellent rebounder and also uses his power and footwork to great results on the perimeter.
On the offensive end, he can fit well in the pick-and-roll and is also quite mobile in terms of cutting to the basket for open looks. Although his shot mechanics need a lot of work, Patton is willing to shoot and could develop into a nice threat on the perimeter which is becoming an essential skill for a modern NBA big man.
Patton fills an immediate need for the Timberwolves as a back-up centre. Nikola Pekovic missed all of last season due to injuries and is no longer with the Timberwolves while Cole Aldrich is the only other option. If the Patton continues to develop, he could represent a major upgrade for Minnesota in terms of second unit big men.
Outlook: The Timberwolves are likely heading back to the playoffs as the acquisition of Jimmy Butler takes them to another level. It’s not just Butler’s on court abilities, but also his veteran presence that will make a huge difference on the team.
Andrew Wiggins has shown incredible offensive talent. In his third NBA season he averaged 23.6 points on 45.6% shooting including 35.6% from three point range. He’s an absolute joy to watch score and he does so often quite spectacularly with electrifying dunks. The Canadian once dubbed “Maple Jordan” also has impressive mid-range game and his shot selection is only getting better as he matures as a professional basketball player.
There’s no doubt that the 22 year old is developing into an elite volume scorer, which makes his glaring weaknesses all the more frustrating. At 6’8” with a 7’0” wingspan there really is no logical explanation for why he’s yet to develop on the defensive end of the ball. His rebounding has also been well below expectation throughout his career at only 4.1 per game which is puzzling for a young man with that level of athletic ability.
One possible explanation is that as Wiggins lead the league in minutes played last season that he is simply spread too thin. It still is an insufficient explanation for his absolutely horrifying defensive plus/minus of -3.16 which was 460th out of 468 qualified NBA players. That is an astoundingly bad number and one that is an indictment on a young talent with elite-level athleticism who many thought would develop into a strong two way player under Tom Thibodeau.
Enter Jimmy Butler who can now play the same role for Wiggins that Luol Deng once played for him and take the young star under his wing and help him use his natural tools to become an effective player on the back-end. The potential is there and maybe with the right mentor on the floor with him, it will finally be realized in Wiggins fourth season.
Offensively, he’s going to have an even bigger year with Jeff Teague collapsing the defense on dribble drives and Jimmy Butler always willing to make the extra pass which will give Wiggins some of the best looks of his career. Combine that with his continued improvement from deep and his further development as an athlete and you have a young talent ready to take an even bigger step toward superstardom which is where most analysts always saw him.
The Timberwolves believe in that potential as well which is why they’re reportedly read to sign Wiggins to a max extension at 5 years, $148 million that would make him the highest paid Canadian athlete of all time. The sound you just heard is a bunch of hockey fans heads exploding from “please like my sport” envy.
Karl-Anthony Towns should also benefit from the addition of some much needed veteran presence on the team. He will have instant pick-and-roll chemistry with Jeff Teague that could exceed the combination that he formed with Rubio. Defenses can’ t ignore Teague because of his ability to hit shots and also drive to the basket, which will create more opportunities for Towns as the roller. KAT can also pop into the perimeter for a catch-and-shoot jumper which he hit with increased regularity last season. Towns will be the best roll man Teague has had since he played with Al Horford.
Towns will also grow as a defender learning from Jimmy Butler and also Taj Gibson. Gibson in particular can help instill the type of D that Thibodeau wants from his bigs in the Wolves young centre and KAT has the work ethic and drive to make it happen. The presence of two incredibly strong veteran defenders will take a lot of pressure off of Towns on that end and not make his mistakes – typical of such a young player – so detrimental to the team. It’s an opportunity for him to learn and grow on the back end that he will take full advantage of.
Butler also takes a lot of pressure off of Towns on the offensive end as he won’t feel as much pressure to force shots and opportunities late in games with a veteran who can take over when needed which will allow for him to wait for better looks and should increase his overall efficiency as well. Towns won’t have to be the number one option for the Timberwolves every night and with the addition of Butler, Teague and Crawford has more offensive firepower behind him than ever before.
KAT is also still 21 years old. He’s an incredible talent. Even with the addition of Jimmy Butler, Towns is still the face of this franchise and the player that they are going to build around going forward. His skill set is almost incomparable in terms of NBA centres. He shot 54% last season including an unbelievable 36% from three point range. His mid-range game has to be seen to be believed in terms of what a 7 footer can do with ease and he’s a constant threat inside the paint. There is really nothing he can do offensively and he’s only going to get better.
What sets Towns apart from other big men is his durability. In both of his NBA seasons, he’s appeared in all 82 games. When you consider the injury history of someone like Anthony Davis or look at what injuries have done to the start of Joel Embiid’s career, it cannot be overstated what a huge boost that KAT’s health has been to his development and the incredible start to his career.
Sharing the floor with Butler and Teague, I’d anticipate a big jump from his impressive second year stat-line of 25.1 points, 12.3 boards, 2.7 dimes and 1.3 blocks and more importantly a huge boost to the quality of looks that he gets and his overall efficiency.
The positive impact of adding a superstar-level talent to Minnesota’s young stars is immeasurable, but Butler is poised to make a huge on-court impact in his own right. He’s used to being the focal point of the Bulls offense and will provide Thibs will a ton of versatile line-up options with his ability to run an offense and facilitate.
Butler is also an elite level pick-and-roll man in his own right so gives the Wolves even more looks with his ability to pass out of the pick and roll, attack the basket or even initiate. I have no idea what opposing defenses would be able to do with a Jimmy Butler-Karl-Anthony Towns pick-and-roll other than get scored on. A lot.
He’s also a very good ISO-player who forces opposing D to draw in on him. That will become important considering he has one the NBA’s best catch-and-shoot big men beside him in Towns or an improved Andrew Wiggins beside him as options. He’s going to make the Wolves offense very powerful and teach them the ways of elite defense.
The whole outlook of this team has changed. Suddenly, they can hang on defense, have a much improved second unit attack that will be lead by a three-time Sixth Man of the Year in Jamal Crawford and an offense that includes two of the best young talents in the entire league and an all-star calibre point guard and an NBA superstar who has single-handedly raised the ceiling to this whole organization.
Minnesota is suddenly a must-watch basketball team and one that will hold its own in a loaded Western Conference. In a Conference that will be dictated by superstar combos like Curry and Durant, Harden and Paul or Westbrook and George, Butler and Towns will hang with the best of them.
The West is a total bloodbath this year as almost every team in the Conference is absolutely loaded with talent to the point where even some of the lower seeds would likely be easy playoff teams in the East. In that landscape, Minnesota’s young talent will grow in a trial by fire and while I don’t necessarily expect them to go beyond the first round, they will be back in the playoffs.
For a team that hasn’t been in the postseason in 13 seasons and counting that’s a huge accomplishment.
That’s what you can achieve when you acquire a superstar.
Prediction: 46-36. 5th in the Western Conference. Back to the playoffs!