Since Jimmy Butler tore the meniscus in his right knee four games ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves have not been the same.
The way the Wolves have looked since Jimmy Butler’s absence compared to how they look with him on the floor all but proves his status as a top-10 player in the NBA.
Jimmy Butler has been on one wild ride, one that has been going on since his final game at Marquette in 2011. Heck, his wild ride could be traced back to before he played a single game with the Golden Eagles.
The story is well-known, but here’s a summary in case you’d forgotten:
As the 30th-overall selection in 2011, Butler was never expected to make much of an impact in the league. In other words, he was a typical underdog. Through grit and grind, however, Butler slowly worked his way up the ranks in the Chicago Bulls organization. He earned more playing time each season until he finally became an All-Star in 2014-15. That’s where Butler put his name on the map. It’s also where he became the rare two-way player that he is now.
From then on Jimmy Butler turned into the creature on the court known as “Jimmy G. Buckets”. He has earned numerous all-defensive honors, an all-NBA honor and three All-Star game nods while wearing a Bulls jersey.
His departure from the Bulls was one that didn’t catch many by surprise as rumors had been circulating about a possible trade for awhile. It also made perfect sense for him to join the Wolves knowing that he would play under former head coach Tom Thibodeau once again. Going to the Wolves also gave him a chance to further solidify himself has a top player in the league.
Until his injury on Feb. 23 against the Houston Rockets, Butler was doing everything everyone thought he would, taking the Wolves to the next level.
His numbers speak just as loudly as his on-court play. Butler leads the team in points and steals per game. He is top-three on the team in free throw percentage, rebounds and assists. He is also top-five in field goal and 3-point percentage.
But you might be wondering, what makes Butler a top-10 player in the league? His numbers are nowhere near as flashy as players such as James Harden, LeBron James or Stephen Curry. That’s true, it has been and most likely will be the case as long as those three are playing. However, it isn’t solely about the numbers with Butler. It’s about his overall impact on his team.
It’s no secret that the Wolves have been near the bottom of the league for some time now. Then they bring in Jimmy Butler and all of a sudden there’s a buzz in Minneapolis.
Sure, the Wolves have young talent and a few other veterans besides Butler who have had a significant impact. However, none have an impact like he has.
First and foremost, Butler was the league-leader in RPM wins until Harden recently overtook him. Now, he is second in the league and accountable for 11.36 wins this season. He is also fourth in the league in overall RPM with a score of 5.66. And since his injury, the Wolves are 2-2 and look somewhat lost.
Without Butler there is no commander on the court. He was the man to get in his teammates faces and pump them up or pick them up. The energy he brought to the court is a close resemblance to that of James. Besides, who else on the team can single-handedly close out a game? On that note, how many in the league can do the same?
Then there was the game against the Nuggets on Dec. 27, when he further showed off his clutch gene.
The Wolves are not the same team when Butler is off the court. Butler doesn’t just have the best net rating on the team (plus 7.8), the Wolves have their worst net rating when he isn’t in the game (minus 7.3).
If he wasn’t already a top-10 player with the Bulls, he has solidified himself as a top-10 player in the NBA since donning the a Wolves jersey. He took over a team that hasn’t seen playoff basketball in over a decade and has put them within striking distance of home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Hopefully, the rest of the team can grind through their final 16 games to stay in home court position for the first round — and, at this point, the playoffs in general.
If they do, Jimmy G. Buckets should be able to come back for the playoffs and continue to show why he is, in fact, a top-10 player in the NBA.