Several teams made big splashes this offseason, and Minnesota Timberwolves were definitely one of them by acquiring All-NBA wingman Jimmy Butler, point guard Jeff Teague and power forward Taj Gibson and super-sixth man Jamal Crawford in free agency. These three veterans were brought in to join young superstars in Butler, Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins to form their own super team. So far it’s gone…. alright. The Wolves are 14-10, have had some injuries, they still stink on defense, and are outscoring teams by 0.6 points per game. Not bad, but there is room for improvement.
There is some good news: they have finally won a few close games, and when everyone is healthy the offense has been impressive. Depth is still an issue, and you can expect the Wolves to be active at the trade deadline to bolster their bench. Butler is the best player on the team and is learning to become more of a leader for the young squad.
Butler is becoming the alpha male for the T-wolves by looking for his shot more and calling out his teammates when they blow a defensive rotation. 24 games in, Butler is finding his groove for the Wolves, and Minnesota is better for it. In Butler’s first ten games with the Wolves, he only averaged 15.7 points, in the twelve games since he is averaging 20.6 points per game. What’s changed?
Butler Fitting Into the Wolves Offense
Minnesota has the fifth best offense despite their lack of playmakers and shooting. They make up for it with great individual scorers. Butler may be the best passer on a team that only ranks 15th in assists. The Wolves like to slow the pace, they are 22nd in that department and then execute in the half court and get the ball to their stars in their sweet spots.
With the lack of shooting, the Wolves have to dominate in the paint, and are sixth in points in the paint. Butler, Teague, and Wiggins are all excellent drivers, and obviously, Towns is a monster in the post. Their high offensive numbers are even more impressive when you consider the Wolves are 29th in points from threes. To make up for it, the Wolves get to the free throw line a ridiculous amount. They are 2nd in the league in this department. Fairly impressive numbers, despite offensive deficiencies. So how has Butler fit in with all of this?
Butler has struggled as a pick-and-roll ball handler this season. The spacing on the floor is tight, and it’s been hard to find room for Butler to operate. He has been better as a spot up player. According to Synergy Sports, Butler spends 14% of the time in spot-up situations and ranks in the 74th percentile in these situations. He has an impressive 57.3 adjusted field goal percentage and 44.8 score frequency in these situations. Butler is at his best when he drives right off of a spot-up. Watch this simple yet effective play.
Jamal Crawford starts with the ball on the top left of the key. Butler is spotting up at the top of the key. Crawford passes to Butler. As soon as Butler gets it, he takes one dribble and drives to the right. Butler is at the rim in two dribbles and finishes with a nice leaner off the glass.
While a simple play, it shows how effective Butler can be when there is proper spacing on the floor to provide the room for Butler to drive. He is strong and athletic enough to finish over length and through contact. Minnesota needs more plays where they can iso Butler or get him going quickly on the move towards the basket.
Spot up opportunities also lead to more three’s, which is Something the Wolves and Butler need more them. He is making them at a 38% clip on only three attempts per game. According to Cleaningtheglass.com he just attempts 6% of his shots from corner threes despite hitting them at a 47% clip. Butler is capable and if he gets his shot going, it will open more driving lanes for him and will help the Wolves offense as a whole.
Sometimes simple is good. Teague starts the play at the top of the key and fires a pass to Butler in the right corner. Butler gets the pass and hits it.Corner threes will be there for Butler since most defenders sag off him. He can make them pay and should look to do so more often.
Spotting up opens up driving lanes for Butler as a scorer, but also as a passer. He is averaging 4.6 assists per game, which is second on the team. It’s one way to get him on the move to make plays for himself and his teammates. Butler on the move is a dangerous player and a crafty passer.
Butler starts in the left corner. He has Patty Mills on him. Butler knows he can take Mills. He makes the right decision of giving Mills a jab step and then taking two dribbles and a jump stop into the paint. Once he is in the paint, he has collapsed the Spurs defense. He kicks out a pass to wide open Andrew Wiggins at the top right of the key, and he drills a three. Butler is a playmaker. He is the second best passer on the team besides Teague. Getting Butler on the move more will help create better and more efficient shots for guys like Wiggins.
One more area on offense where Butler should get more involved is in transition. I know it’s not the Wolves things, but it’s Butler’s. He should get the freedom to push the ball more often. In transition, Butler ranks in the 75th percentile with an adjusted field goal percentage of 59% and a score frequency of 55%. Unfortunately, he is in transition opportunities only 12% of the time. That number should go up. Look at this play in a semi-transition situation.
Reggie Jackson misses a pull-up jumper. Towns gets the rebound and passes it to Butler. Butler takes it one on four. He euro steps between two Piston defenders and hits a nice floater before the clock expires. Butler can make incredible plays like this on a routine basis.
Butler on Defense
As I mentioned, Minnesota has struggled on defense, as they are 23rd in defensive efficiency. Butler has been good, but not great. He ranks in the 62nd percentile overall and is capable of better play. Adjusting to a new team is a part of it, and also it’s early, and sometimes he takes it easy on that end, but when he is locked in he is the best defender they have. Butler right now is third on the team in defensive rating, however, he is first in defensive win shares.
Right now he is at his best defending spot-up action, and playing the passing lanes. He leads the Wolves in steals. Against spot up action, he ranks in the 76th percentile and only allows a score frequency of 32%. This is where he is best. Look further, and you see the more significant impact Butler has. He is 5th among all shooting guards in defensive RPM. This play shows the impact Butler can have on a single play.
Here the Warriors are taking it out of bounds under their basket. Butler fights through a screen to stay with Klay Thompson. Thompson gets the ball, but Butler is all over him and forces him to pass it out to Draymond Green. Then here is where Butler’s great instincts kick in. He has Jeff Teague switch onto Thompson and Butler anticipates the pass to Steph Curry in the corner and gets the steal, which leads to a basket for the Wolves. This is Butler single handily running a Warriors possession.
It hasn’t been smooth, it will take time, but Jimmy Butler will be fine. His impact has mostly been positive so far. He is second on the team in net rating and second in PIE(player impact estimate). All of this while being fourth in usage. Minnesota needs to put the ball in his hands more, because he just shouldn’t have a lower usage rating than Jamal Crawford. While Butler is the best of the big three of playing off the ball, there has to be some balance. Recently, you have seen a more aggressive Butler on both ends.
Expect that to continue as he asserts himself as the best player on the team. Maybe one day that player is Towns or Wiggins, but as of now, it’s Butler. He is a complete player and plays both ends of the floor. It is up to Tom Thibodeau to put him in the best spots offensively, and for Jimmy Butler to be locked in defensively and hold his teammates accountable. That will be the difference between making the playoffs and losing in five games and winning a series in the playoffs. The best is yet to come of Jimmy Butler in Minnesota.