Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, and Timberwolves’ redundancies

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 13: Jimmy Butler
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 13: Jimmy Butler /

Everyone knows that Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler have similar offensive styles. How will Tom Thibodeau utilize these two to maximize their talents and, in turn, the Timberwolves offense?

Writer’s note: This will serve as the daily reminder to Wolves’ fans that your team now has Jimmy Butler. Whether you’re not happy with the additional moves the team has made, bored because you’re an NBA fan and it’s August, or just plain having a bad day, this fact should lift your spirits.

Now that we’re all in a good mood, let’s take a deeper look as to how Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins will fit together on the court this upcoming season.

The term ‘redundant skill sets’ is a phrase that has been thrown around multiple times when discussing these two players and how they will mesh together on the court. Although it’s an expression that may have some merit, in this particular case the idea might be overblown.

For example, having both a starting and backup point guard who lack size and shooting ability, but are considered a ‘floor general’ and have great instincts, might create an overlap of skill that one wouldn’t prefer. While it’s okay to have one of these players on a team, having two at the same position is something that’s not needed to construct a competitive NBA roster.

However, having two physically imposing wings that are both able to cross-match on defense, handle the ball in the pick-and-roll, and bully smaller opponents isn’t so much a redundancy problem as it is a luxury. The real question is whether both of these players will be able to strengthen the parts of their games to play off of each other in a way that leads to a fluent and sustainable offensive attack.

Past experiences with co-stars on the wing.

The easiest place to begin this analysis is by looking at how both Butler and Wiggins have played with other ball dominant wing players in the past. These examples can be found as recently as last season. Jimmy adapted his game to future-Hall-of-Fame wing Dwyane Wade, who is known for his ability to make plays while controlling the ball. Andrew spent a majority of his past season playing with Zach LaVine, a player who excels when given the opportunity to create his own shots.

Even with these players taking touches and needing the ball in their hands, Butler and Wiggins put up productive numbers. Jimmy’s stat line finished with him averaging 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.5 assists. Andrew wasn’t too bad himself, averaging 23.6 points, 4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.

Now, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but it speaks to how each player is able to adjust their games to other players’ strengths. Jimmy Butler is a better player than Zach LaVine, and one could argue at this point in their careers that Andrew Wiggins is a better player than an aged Dwyane Wade. This shows that each Butler and Wiggins could have an easier time adapting as this years’ pairing combines higher-level talent.

Digging into the numbers.

Perhaps the most important factors for both Wiggins and Butler in playing together is their ability to hit spot up 3-pointers and make plays while cutting. Luckily for coach Tom Thibodeau, both have shown an ability to do these things at a high level.

Using this chart that was put together by Lucas Seehafer (a writer from our friends over at A Wolf Among Wolves), we are able to see where they rank by league standards in these categories.

Last season, Andrew Wiggins was able to shoot at a 41 percent clip on spot-up threes. Although this only puts him in the 52nd percentile for this category, it reveals his ability to hit the three pointer at an above-league-average rate when playing off the ball. He also scored 1.42 points-per-possession (PPP) on cutting opportunities, placing him in the 83rd percentile among all NBA players in this play type.

Butler, on the other hand, ranked in the 92nd percentile in spot-up opportunities, scoring 1.21 PPP. He also proved to be adept at executing on cutting opportunities, ranking in the 62nd percentile and scoring 1.32 PPP. It should be noted that Jimmy is elite in a lot of categories while analyzing this chart.

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So what do all of these numbers and advanced statistics mean? Essentially, it shows that both Wiggins and Butler have the ability to succeed even when they aren’t controlling the ball. The key will be maintaining this efficiency and success in larger volume, as both seem to be in line for more off-ball work this upcoming season.

How Thibodeau will utilize them.

There are a few possible scenarios as to how Thibs will deploy his two star wings. Let’s look at the options:

The first, and probably most likely, option is that Thibodeau will run his offense through Jimmy Butler to begin games. He’ll allow Andrew to play off-ball and ease into the flow of the contest by hitting spot-up jumpers and being a second or third option. Seeing as to how Butler is an All-NBA-level player and more efficient scorer, this option is tough to argue with.

The next possible scenario would be to see which wing has the weaker defender on them and attack that matchup. For example, if the Timberwolves are playing the Portland Trail Blazers, Thibodeau would see which of his wings was being guarded by C.J. McCollum (probably Wiggins), and allow them to use their superior physical gifts to their advantage. This would create a mismatch and give the Timberwolves an edge, as teams would be forced to double team and allow other players easy scoring opportunities.

The third option would be to let both Wiggins and Butler play off of each other without either one dominating a string of possessions. This strategy would get both players involved and into the flow of the game. Thibodeau could then substitute Andrew out of the game early and bring him back to be the primary option for the second unit, much like how Zach LaVine was utilized last season before his injury. This would allow both Wiggins and Butler an opportunity to create offense as a main initiator throughout the game.

What to look for…

The chances are that the Wolves will use a mix of all these strategies throughout the season. It will take some time for their skill sets to mesh, and there will assuredly be some speed bumps along the way.

But, as is with all successful teams, the Wolves stars will figure it out and things will click at some point during the year. Hopefully for Wolves fans, this point comes sooner rather than later. Butler and Wiggins each seem to be too talented and driven to allow sustained stretches of poor interconnectedness on the offensive end.

The point of these 1,000+ words is that we shouldn’t become too worried by the apparent overlapping of skills with the Timberwolves two star players. The NBA is dominated today by versatile swingmen, and the Wolves are lucky enough to have two of them at their disposal. The hope is that Jimmy can somehow mold Andrew into the defensive menace he is capable of being, as well as unlock aspects of his offensive game that have not yet been fully realized.

Next: Wolves' Owner Glen Taylor On Andrew Wiggins' Contract Talks

If that happens, Wolves’ opponents will have a potential nightmare on their hands every game night at Target Center.