Is the Jimmy Butler trade good or bad for Andrew Wiggins?

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves are excited about the addition of Jimmy Butler, but is the trade good or bad for Andrew Wiggins?

Minnesota Timberwolves team president and head coach Tom Thibodeau swung a trade to acquire Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls on the night of the 2017 NBA Draft. The trade gives the Timberwolves an All-NBA player to start opposite of their promising young scoring wing, Andrew Wiggins. How will the Jimmy Butler trade affect Wiggins’ individual development and his role with the team?

Offensive adjustments

Andrew Wiggins’ has been a big-time scorer for the Timberwolves. He averaged 16.9 points per game as a rookie and has improved on this number each season. Last year, Wiggins bumped up his three-point shooting to a respectable 35.6%  after struggling from beyond the arc his first two seasons. He is also the designated go-to scorer for the Timberwolves in late-game situations.

There is a good deal of overlap between Wiggins and Butler on the offensive end. The areas on the court in which the two wing players score from is remarkably similar. The highest percentage of their points came in the paint and off mid-range jumpers. Neither of them scored much from the three-point line. Each player also had a high usage rate – Wiggins at 28.8% and Butler at 26.5%.

This means Wiggins will have to make some adjustments offensively. He will cede isolation and pick-and-roll scoring opportunities to Butler, but he can still get his points if he capitalizes on off-the-ball scoring opportunities (e.g. spot up threes, cuts to the rim and offensive putbacks). Butler is an excellent playmaker (5.5 assists per game last season) so Wiggins will get open looks when they share the court.

Speaking of playmaking, it is imperative that Wiggins improves his shot/pass decision-making. At times, he takes difficult contested shots when a pass to an open teammate is the better option. Hopefully, the upgrade in offensive talent around him will foster improvement in this area.

Wiggins will probably lose his role as the Timberwolves closer to Butler this season. Butler’s offensive rating in clutch situations was better than Wiggins last season (114.4 vs. 97.6). In addition, Butler’s 31.5% assist rate in clutch situations easily bests Wiggins 9.7%. Butler is the logical option in late-game situations.

Defense commitment

On the defensive end, Wiggins has plenty of room for improvement. His elite physical tools led many to project him as a future lockdown defender coming into the NBA, but that potential has not been realized. Kyle Wagner of FiveThirtyEight selected him as the Least Defensive Player of the 2016-2017 season, noting that the “root of the issue seems to be basic effort.”

A lack of effort on the defensive end will not be tolerated this year after the Butler trade. Butler’s defensive ability got him playing time early in his career and he expects his teammates to match his commitment. He will not hesitate to call out teammates when he believes their commitment and effort is lacking.

Will Butler help Wiggins blossom into the two-way player he is capable of becoming? Thibodeau seems to think so, that’s what he told Jim Rome:

"I think (Butler) will be very helpful with (Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns) in terms of showing them the way. And the fact that Jimmy’s a two-way player, I think that will help us tremendously. I think that that’s the biggest area of growth that we need to improve upon is we need to make a commitment to play defense, and I think with Jimmy leading the way I think that will help."

Wiggins’ failure to capitalize on his defense potential thus far is concerning, but not irrevocable. Wiggins should have a solid understanding of Thibodeau’s defensive concepts going in to year two and the Butler trade gives him a fellow wing with the experience to teach him the nuances of Thibodeau’s system. Butler will also guard the best opposing wing player, easing the defensive burden on Wiggins. All the resources are in place for Wiggins to take a significant leap forward defensively.

Outlook for Wiggins

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This is a very important season for Wiggins. He has not offered much beyond his scoring ability in his three years with the Timberwolves. Thibodeau recently told ESPN’s Nick Friedell that the next step in Wiggins development will be rounding out the rest of his game.

"It’s to continue to take and make steps moving forward. When you look at what he’s done for a guy who’s 22 years old, he went from 16 points a game to 20 points a game to 24 points a game. … The challenge is to be a complete player."

The Jimmy Butler trade could prove to be a catalyst for Wiggins’ development or, if Wiggins does not improve his all-around game, diminish his value to the team by making Wiggins’ primary contribution, scoring, redundant. The growth of Wiggins, as well as the on-court chemistry with Butler, will be one of the things to watch this upcoming season.

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