Now that we’re a month into the 2017-18 NBA season, let’s revisit the trade that brought Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves and see where Minnesota and Chicago stand.
Put simply, the Bulls decision to trade away Jimmy Butler was an effort to jump-start a reconstruction process, and the Wolves choice to acquire him was all about getting a solid roof on the team.
Tom Thibodeau traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh pick in the draft (which turned out to be Lauri Markkanen) to his former team, the Chicago Bulls, for Jimmy Butler and the 16th pick, which the Wolves used to select big man Justin Patton.
The trade was celebrated by Wolves fans and ridiculed by Bulls talking heads at the time. Now that we’re 14 games into the season, its time to evaluate the trade once again.
Timberwolves’ Impressive Start
The Wolves have a record of 10-5, including 7-3 in the conference and 4-0 in the division. The Bulls are just 2-9, including 2-5 in the Eastern Conference and 0-2 in their division, which may suggest that they’re still waiting on final approval to start construction.
I never viewed this trade as the Thibodeau fleecing that was suggested by Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney shortly after the trade, but rather as an outcome that benefited both parties.
Jimmy Butler is a fantastic player and shares a similar, headstrong personality with Coach Thibs. It’s that attitude that makes him a good match for the Wolves and a less comfortable fit for the relaxed Bulls head coach, Mayor Fred Hoiberg.
Chicago received three players with great potential, and if just one of them becomes an All-Star and another is a reliable starter, then they’ll have made a good trade.
And if Jimmy Buckets leads the Wolves to the playoffs, few will question the trade.
The Forgotten Pick
The Wolves’ forgotten 16th-overall pick Justin Patton may end up being the piece that surprises everyone the most, but has been forgotten because broken left foot that occurred shortly after being drafted. Here are his impressive college stats, including 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game while playing 25.3 minutes per contest. He shot 66.7 percent from the floor and 53.3 percent from beyond the arc in limited chances from long-range.
Besides his free throw shooting (51.7 percent), he left the NCAA with statistically impressive numbers that had him projected to be drafted between the 10th and 20th selections.
He started his high school career as a 6’-2″ guard and ended his senior year as a 6’-10″ center with a seven-foot wingspan. Patton will start his professional career with the Iowa Wolves of the G-League, so Wolves fans shouldn’t expect him to play a big role this season.
Patton has the potential to be an excellent addition to the front line. If he can start to contribute he’ll help the Wolves juggle salary cap issues in the future.
Bullish on Dunn
Kris Dunn had a disappointing rookie season after being drafted wiht the fifth-overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft out of Providence.
Prior to the start of the 2016-17 season, he was projected by his peers to win Rookie of the Year with Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons placing below him in the voting. Dunn entered the NBA wish bullish expectations, however, he struggled offensively and seemed lost for much of the season.
In his first season with the Bulls, Dunn has improved in almost every statistical category, albeit only after a handful of games. While his offensive numbers have made significant strides, it’s still on-ball ball defense that has resulted in The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry and others advocating he’s ready to take the starting role from Jerian Grant. Dunn’s stats are superior to Grant’s in every category including 3-point shooting, which isn’t pretty for either player.
Dunn is still playing a supporting role but much improved play over last season which is a sign that The Mayor is developing him into an important building block for the Bulls future.
Proud & Modest Markkanen
Jyvaskyla, Finland product Lauri Markkanen entered the league with imposing offensive numbers for a 7’-0″ forward. Here are his eye-popping college stats from this international player: 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and 42.3 from beyond the arc.
Markkenn comes into the league with uncomfortably high expectations for someone who is clearly more comfortable with humility than riding high on accolades.
He’s putting up 14.5 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists, and while his overall field goal and 3-point percentage are below his college numbers but respectable for a rookie.
He’s been a strong piece to the renovating Bulls and has started his season off strong that should make his modest homeland proud.
Slamming Zach LaVine
Zach LaVine was the 13th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft and was projected to be a combo guard of sorts. The Wolves experimented with LaVine at the point guard position and while it may have been valuable for his development, it became clear that he’s a natural two guard.
Zach remains out with injury but is expected to return this season, so it’s clearly premature to evaluate his impact, but past performance is still an indicator of the product the Bulls received.
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My slam-dunking tolerance is low, yet I believe once LaVine is healthy he has the potential to be an NBA All-Star without the need for high-flying theatrics. Zach’s offensive numbers have consistently improved each season and by all accounts, he was an affable player on and off the court.
Time will tell if Mayor Hoiberg can develop him into an All-Star.
In June, Mr. Buckets joined the Timberwolves with high expectations his arrival would be a cure for the teams thirteen-year playoff bed-rest.
Last year the Wolves won their ninth game of the season on December 21st — but compare that to their 19 losses at the time. This season, the Wolves are tied for the second-best start in franchise history.
While the trade for Butler has been a success based on the most important statistics, wins and loses, it’s also clear Butler’s impact hasn’t been completely felt.
At home, the Wolves are off to a 5-1 start and have been competitive and won some close games, which wasn’t often the result last season. They are playing .500 ball on the road and have had a few good wins, including their recent victories over the Jazz and the Mavericks and disappointing losses to the Suns, Pacers, and Pistons.
Butler’s presence has improved the team’s play, but surprisingly been less impactful on the team’s overall defensive numbers. The Wolves have started the season ranked near the bottom in overall defense, including defensive rebounds and blocks. On the bright side, they are in the top-five in steals averaging 9.1 per game.
Butler is averaging 1.6 steals per game, which is par for his career but below last season’s performance. His numbers in various other defensive categories are below his accomplishments last season, but it’s early in the season and plenty of time to influence averages.
Last season, Jimmy Buckets scored 23.9 points per game after scoring between 20 and 21 the previous two seasons, and he’s averaging just over 16 this season. In addition to his shooting woes, his assists, offensive rebounds, 3-pointers (both attempted and percentage made), field goal percentage are all lower than last season’s averages. He’s shooting the ball extremely well from the line from a percentage standpoint but getting there less often.
I’m less concerned about his reduction in offensive numbers on a team with plenty of elite shooters than the Wolves defensive deficiencies. Recent victories against the Spurs and Jazz prove they are trending in the right defensive direction.
Butlers’ offensive woes are in part a result of his efforts to ensure other teammates shine. It will be important that he becomes less generous and at times and demonstrates his innate ability to dominate games when others are unable.
Jimmy Buckets was brought to the Wolves to bring leadership, defensive grit and deliver the team to the playoffs.
He’ll need to learn to be less altruistic and be more self-serving if the Wolves are going to stay near the top of the league. Such criticism speaks to the person he is, and the real value he’s providing, and there’s probably no reason to fret.
The Chicago Bulls have the promise of three young and talented players and it’s likely at least one will be a significant contributor. In four to five years, these players will be in the prime of their careers, and they’ll be close to Jimmy Bulter’s current age.
The Mayor and the Bulls will be putting their bricks and mortar together over the next couple seasons and have plenty to be optimistic about. Thibodeau and the Wolves, on the other hand, have a roof over their house and can enjoy having the security of finally being out of the rain.