Minnesota Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler’s next step

Tom Thibodeau played a huge role in the development of Jimmy Butler into an All-NBA caliber player. Now he will get to the reap the benefits, with the former Bulls star now in Minnesota via a draft-day trade.

Jimmy Butler started off his career as a defensive ace, making the All-Defensive Second Team in 2014. He improved his offensive game the next season, where he increased his field goal percentage dramatically (from 39.7 to 46.2 percent), and went on to average 20 points per game.

Thanks to a draft-day trade, Butler will be joining his old head coach Tom Thibodeau with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are hoping their new star on the wing can help lead the franchise to its first playoff appearance since 2004.

As an established Third Team All-NBA player, Butler has very few holes in his game. But there are two areas he can improve on that would go a long way toward making him a legitimate MVP candidate in 2018.

Jimmy the playmaker:

Jimmy Butler won the Most Improved Player award in 2014-15, mostly because of the aforementioned 20 points per game.

But the underrated part of Butler’s game is his passing. He is by no means the most creative, but his ability to draw attention is impressive when doubled with his great vision.

He has improved on his assist percentage every season, culminating in a career-high 24.8 percent last year. Butler may or may not be the primary ball-handler in Minnesota, depending on what happens with Ricky Rubio.

But either way he should be free to chase a career-high usage rate. In Chicago, Dwyane Wade actually managed to use up more possessions on offense than Butler, which further proves that pairing him with slashing guards may not be the best idea.

In Minnesota, Butler will be playing with scorers more potent than anyone this side of Derrick Rose, as 21-year olds Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns combined for 48.7 points per game last season to become one of the higher-scoring duos in the league. They both shot above 35 percent from the three-point line, but suffered from the fact that no one else on the team was hitting their shots from deep.

Butler will serve as a driving force both literally and figuratively, setting up his new teammates for open perimeter shots. The closer Butler gets to 6-8 assists per game, the harder he will be to contain in any way. His ceiling on this new squad is “poor man’s James Harden with an impressive defensive intensity.”

Jimmy the rebounder:

Jimmy Butler is one of the better rebounding swingmen in the league and he has played on one of the best rebounding teams in the league for most his career. In Minnesota, he will be on the 25th-best rebounding squad in the league, and part of their issue is they don’t gang-rebound.

Oftentimes you see only KAT or Gorgui Dieng crashing the glass aggressively. One of Wiggins’ worst traits is his apparent allergy to rebounds, which contributes heavily to the one-dimensional nature of his game. Wiggins collected about six percent of the total rebounds for Minnesota when he was on the floor, one of the worst marks on the team. Butler, on the other hand, would be the best rebounding non-big on the Timberwolves.

Thibodeau will benefit from Butler’s tenacity, and will hope that some of that rubs off on the uber-athletic Wiggins. Even if Wiggins never tops his anemic 4.1 per game career rebound average, then he will push Butler up to the small forward spot. The interesting part is that Thibodeau will be able to experiment with Butler as a small-ball 4, something he never really got to try in Chicago.

Butler as a power forward in certain lineups would immediately force the opposition into making a change. He would be able to score at will on traditional lineups, and with the lack of low-post threats at the 4-spot, he would more than be able to hold his own on defense.

The biggest improvement would actually come on defense, where Minnesota would be able to contain even the league’s best floor-spacing power forwards with such a speedy group on the floor. The ability for Butler and co. to scramble and recover on defense would help bring up their team rebounding numbers to a more Thibs-like level.

Jimmy the MVP:

If Butler can assume the leadership role with the Timberwolves and help end the 13-year playoff drought, he will be revered in Minnesota. But if he does that while putting up a LeBron James-like 27-7-7 stat line, Butler has the chance to join elite company.

Tom Thibodeau has coached Butler before, but not this Jimmy Butler. The sky’s the limit for Butler and the young Timberwolves.

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