Minnesota Timberwolves: Reassessing the Jimmy Butler trade

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

15 games into the Minnesota Timberwolves season, let’s take a look at how the Jimmy Butler mega-deal is working out for the Wolves and Chicago Bulls.

Back on 2017 NBA Draft day, the Jimmy Butler-to-Minnesota Timberwolves rumors finally became a reality. After six seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Butler was reunited with former head coach Tom Thibodeau and was expected to be the big piece needed to get the Wolves over the hump. Specifically, he was the piece needed to lead a young Minnesota team to its first playoff berth since the 2003-04 season.

So far, the Timberwolves look like a totally different team with Butler as they stand at 10-5, good enough for third-best in the Western Conference. While they started out 2-3 and had a mini-slump against the Golden State Warriors and Pheonix Suns, the Wolves have responded in those short times of adversity. In particular, Minnesota followed a 2-3 start with a five-game win streak and the two-game slump with a three-game win streak.

In reality, the Wolves have Butler to thank for much of the club’s success. Sure, there’s a cast of players around him that deserve credit. Furthermore, the 28-year-old veteran hasn’t exactly been hitting on all cylinders…. yet. Currently, he averages 15.8 points shooting 40 percent from the field, both far below his averages over the last three All-Star seasons in Chicago.

Nevertheless, Butler brings a winning mentality this team desperately needed. Not to mention, a team-first persona.

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While he’s struggled to score at times, he’s done all the other things well. He averages 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.8 steals and shoots 87.9 percent from the free throw line. Most importantly, he’s come through at big times. Following the two mini-slumps, he responded with 25 points, seven assists and five rebounds against the Oklahoma City Thunder the first time around. While producing 21 points, 10 assists and two steals to help end a two-game slump the second go around.

Basically, he refuses to let the circumstances of the season get in the way of his pursuit of winning. In the past, the Wolves would have allowed these minor slumps turn into major ones to big to recover from. With Butler in the fold, this Minnesota squad boasts a unique confidence compared to years past. Jimmy Buckets just has a swagger about him that’s infectious to the rest of the team.

The scary part is Wolves fans haven’t even witnessed Butler on top of his game. There’s undoubtedly been inconsistency in his play, mainly shooting the ball. But, there’s also no doubt these struggles aren’t going to last. Butler is too good of a player to continue shooting at the current rate he is. In turn, expect him to be more consistent scoring points down the road and when he does, this team is going to be even better for it. An even scarier thought considering the Wolves aren’t exactly in a bad position right now from a record standpoint.

When Justin Patton returns from foot surgery, the Timberwolves mega-deal should look even better. The 7-foot rookie center boasts great potential and should provide further frontcourt depth behind Karl-Anthony Towns, Taj Gibson, Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica. In one season at Creighton University, Patton averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 rebounds.

On the other hand, the Chicago Bulls are struggling at 3-10 without Butler, although that was expected. I mean, taking a player of Butler’s caliber out of the lineup is going to set any team back. That being said, they received three young players that look extremely promising. While Zach LaVine is still recovering from a torn ACL, second-year point guard Kris Dunn and rookie power forward Lauri Markkanen are taking advantage of big minutes with the Bulls.

Playing off the bench, Dunn is averaging 11.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.1 steals in 26 minutes of action. In nine games played, he’s exemplified the superb defensive game that was expected from the former fifth overall pick. Yet, he’s shown offensive improvement, including a career-high 22-point performance against the Charlotte Hornets last game. Additionally, he’s improved his shot from 37.7 percent to 42.3 percent from the field, as well as 28.8 percent to 34.8 percent from 3.

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The other key cog playing in the deal is Lauri Markkanen, who the Timberwolves drafted for the Bulls seventh overall. In 13 starts, the power forward is averaging 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds. He’s also shooting 36.4 percent from 3. In turn, he looks more and more like a star stretch forward in the making.

Once LaVine comes back from his serious knee injury, he’s sure to provide a spark on this young Bulls team as well.  With the Timberwolves, he was really starting to come into his own. In his rookie season, he averaged 10.1 points but followed that with averages of 14.0 and 18.9 points the next two seasons. Of course, he’s arguably the most athletic guard in the game and also has great touch from the 3-point line as a 38 percent-plus shooter over the last two years.

Ultimately, there’s no arguing this trade was the right move for the Timberwolves. They are in unchartered territory with a franchise-best start and are poised to be a contender at season’s end with Butler aboard. Even so, the pieces traded away are making up a core of players primed to bring success to the Chicago franchise in the long-term.

Next: Timberwolves off to great start and they haven't peaked!

Better yet, when Butler reaches his ceiling and LaVine returns from injury, this trade may start shaping up as one of the top win-win trades of all-time. Regardless, it’s sure looking as good as ever for both squads.