Featured Photo Credit: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images AsiaPac
The 2017 NBA offseason will forever to remembered as one of the wildest in recent memory where seven former All-Stars were traded to different teams.
One of those former All-Stars was three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, formerly of the Chicago Bulls. Just past the midway point of the season, Butler has been making an indelible mark on his new team. Currently sitting at 28-16 and in the 4th seed in the Western Conference, the Minnesota Timberwolves are by far one of the most improved teams in the league this season. Despite the many new players the team added during the offseason, Butler is the main catalyst for their big progression.
Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are still the future of this franchise. However, Butler’s leadership, veteran presence, and great all-around play has sped up that future and has the Timberwolves on the rise and as a threat in the Western Conference right now.
Through the first two months of the season, Jimmy Butler was averaging a rather pedestrian (for his standards) 17.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. He didn’t play with his usual aggression, he seemed a bit passive and often deferred to Towns and Wiggins. By the end of November, the ‘Wolves had a solid, but unspectacular 13-9 record.
Since the start of December, Butler has raised his averages to 24.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game, in route to the team going 15-7. Now leading the team in scoring average, Butler has elevated the team’s overall offense. When Jeff Teague recently missed seven games with a knee sprain, Butler had to increase playmaking, which he did by averaging 6.9 assists in those seven games.
Overall, the ‘Wolves currently rank 5th in offensive rating and 7th in points per game. Last season, they finished 10th and 13th in each category, respectively. By adding Butler, the ‘Wolves have another scorer in their starting lineup that can explode for 25 or more points in any given game and he’s been doing so more lately.
Tom Thibodeau’s calling card as a coach has always been his expertise on the defensive end. In five seasons as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, his team never finished worse than ninth in points per game allowed. In his first four seasons with the Bulls, his team finished in the top three each year, including two first-place finishes.
When Thibodeau took over as the new head coach and president of basketball operations in 2016, it was expected they would make a jump defensively. Instead, they finished just 19th in the league in points allowed and 27th in defensive rating last season. So far this season with Butler, they’ve improved to 13th in points allowed and 17th in defensive rating.
Butler has been one of the NBA’s top perimeter defenders since stepping foot into the league. That reputation has remained with him and he’s a big reason why the ‘Wolves have seen their defense improve since last season. Butler is currently averaging a career-high 2.0 steals per game. The team has shown much defensive improvement over the last couple months than the first couple months. Butler’s ability, in particular, to defend the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George and other top-tier wing players while also carrying an offensive load is huge for the team’s success.
Last season, the Timberwolves finished the season 9-14 in games decided by five or fewer points en route to a disappointing 31-51 overall record. They were a young, up and coming, inexperienced team that needed to learn how to close out games.
So far this season, the Timberwolves are 7-6 in games decided by five or fewer points. That is not a small differential, and Butler is the main reason why the Timberwolves have been able to close out games better this season than last.
Most Points in Clutch Time This Season
LeBron James 115
Kyrie Irving 99
Jimmy Butler 97
Russell Westbrook 88
Butler and Westbrook set to go head-to-head at 8 ET on ESPN.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 11, 2018
Butler has been one of the best 4th quarter players in the NBA this season, and especially in the clutch. This game below is just one of the many clutch moments Butler has had so far this season.
In a game that went into overtime, where two starters fouled out and another starter left due to injury, Butler put the team on his back and hit the game-winning shot while playing 45 long minutes. If this were last season, the ‘Wolves would have likely lost that game given the same situation. Butler is one of the league’s top performers and steps up when the team needs it most.
The Timberwolves are on the rise. Their 13-year playoff drought looks to be coming to an end and much of that is thanks in large part to Jimmy Butler. He has helped transform and elevate them in more ways than one. With Butler at the helm, this team will be well-equipped to make some noise in the Western Conference not only this season, but for several more seasons to come.