Trouble was brewing in Minneapolis at the start of the NBA season.
Jimmy Butler infamously defeated the Timberwolves’ starting unit with a group of backups and publicly expressed his frustration in an interview with Rachel Nichols. This came after Butler had already made comments about his teammates’ work ethic dating back to last season.
Jimmy Butler said on the JJ Redick podcast that he only shot the ball once during the infamous practice scrimmage in Minnesota.— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) December 11, 2018
“Oh, I was dominating, but I only shot the ball once. Dimes, boom boom boom, steals, blocks.” https://t.co/JwDqQ1UBF9
It was clear the star’s days in Minnesota were numbered. Finally, the Timberwolves traded him to the 76ers on November 12.
One would assume that losing a talent like Butler would only prove to hurt an already-struggling Timberwolves team, but for a while the opposite was true. The Wolves won seven of nine games immediately following Butler’s departure, and many folks were quick to say that they were better off without Butler.
Recently, however, they’ve cooled off. They didn’t win once on a four-game road trip with their most recent coming against the Suns (6-24) on Saturday. Now that Minnesota has leveled out a bit, there is the need to reevaluate the claims of a better Timberwolves squad.
Getting rid of Jimmy Butler inevitably improved the cohesion of the team. When there is a guy that’s causing trouble in the locker room and is openly bashing his teammates, it’s going to cause trust issues that show up on the court. Now that Butler’s gone, the Timberwolves have made strides in their team defense.
Addition by Subtraction
The addition of NBA All-Defensive First Teamer Robert Covington and perhaps some extra motivation have helped the Timberwolves go from being ranked dead last in team defensive efficiency to 18th in the league. This is an impressive ascent considering the fact that poor defensive play early on is weighing down their season-long efficiency ranking.
Surprisingly, the loss of the All-Star shooting guard hasn’t made much of an impact on the team’s scoring. They rank 16 in offensive efficiency, the same as when Butler left for Philly. Likewise, their points per game have only gone down from 110.5 to 110.1
Relying on Familiar Faces
Head Coach Tom Thibodeau has relied on Derrick Rose and Karl-Anthony Townes to provide scoring, and that’s just what they’ve done. Rose has somewhat reinvented his game with a significantly improved 3 point shot this season, yet he’s still finishing around the rim with the same touch that dazzled everyone in his MVP season, albeit with less explosiveness. He’s the Timberwolves’ second-leading scorer.
As for Townes, his shots taken and points per game have risen since the trade, as have his assists and rebounds. His role has reverted back to what it was pre-Jimmy Butler, and it has led to more success for the Timberwolves.
To this point, it seems that Minnesota has benefited from the Jimmy Butler trade despite their recent four-game skid. While Butler is an All-NBA talent and has shined since joining the Sixers, he clearly was the source of a great deal of turmoil in the locker room. Had everything been gravy between Butler and the rest of the team, he likely could have been better for the T-Wolves. But that simply wasn’t the case, and Minnesota looks better for shipping him to Philadelphia.