Wolves’ Butler living up to expectations

Call it The Jimmy Butler Effect.

His arrival catapulted the once-young Minnesota Timberwolves into the future overnight, inspiring a media frenzy and promises of a playoff spot.

So far, so good.

The Wolves improved to 24-14 with their 114-96 win over the ascendant Los Angeles Lakers on Monday. It’s the first time Minnesota has been 10 games above .500 since the 2003-04 season.

That team, coached by Flip Saunders and led by Kevin Garnett — then at the height of his powers — Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, finished 58-24, before falling to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

It’s the largest turnaround in the NBA. The Wolves, who finished last season with a .378 winning percentage, now sit at .632, the most dramatic increase in the league this season.

Team 2016-17 2017-18 Diff.
Timberwolves 31-51 (.378) 24-14 (.632) +.254
Nets 20-62 (.244) 14-23 (.378) +.134
76ers 28-54 (.341) 17-19 (.472) +.131
Pistons 37-45 (.451) 20-15 (.571) +.120
Knicks 31-51 (.378) 18-19 (.486) +.108

And Butler has been their closer.

Butler has scored at least 10 points eight times this season, and seven times since Dec. 1, around the time he rediscovered his penchant for taking over games. Since then, only Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz has more double-digit performances in the fourth.

And while the Wolves’ offense ebbs and flows around Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, he isn’t the only vet who has upped his game.

Big man Taj Gibson has shot at least 50 percent from the field in nine straight games, the second-longest such streak in the league.

Statistics courtesy of STATS