Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler has become one of the most dominant players in the league during his first season with the team.
Marc Stein of the New York Times recently tweeted that Butler and Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan are each playing at an MVP-caliber level this season. After the way Butler started his first year in Minnesota, few saw this coming.
However, the decision was more intentional than many may have realized. He knew he was joining a team that already had two other star players on their roster with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Then after a practice on Nov. 10, the 28-year-old said he was going back to “putting the ball in the basket” and added that he would be a different player moving forward.
Since then, he has led the Timberwolves with 23.3 points and 16.4 shots per game. His touches (65.5 per game) and usage rate (26 percent) have both increased significantly and the revamped mentality has been noticed by folks around the league.
In fact, his stellar play has catapulted his name into the MVP debate. Butler ranks third in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus behind only Stephen Curry and James Harden.
However, Curry and Harden have missed time due to injury, so Butler is the overall leader in ESPN’s “RPM Wins” stat, which estimates the number of wins each player has contributed to his team’s win total.
Tom Thibodeau spoke about Butler in a conversation with team reporter Kyle Ratke (via NBA.com):
“He’s changed everything. He’s playing at an MVP level. . . To lift a team that’s lost as much as much as we’ve lost over the last 13 years. To change the culture is very important to us.”
You can visualize how much he has improved as the season has progressed thanks to a graphic from basketball analyst Dean Oliver.
His stellar performances have remained consistently among the best for nearly two months in a row.
Among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together so far this season, no team has a higher net rating than Butler, Towns and Wiggins with Taj Gibson and Tyus Jones. They have outscored opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions in 249 minutes together on the court.
Only two players (LeBron James and Kyrie Irving) have scored more points during clutch time than Butler so far this season.
Klay Thompson and Trevor Ariza are the only players who have scored more points per possession than Butler in transition offense (1.36 PPP) among those with as many opportunities this season. He ranks Top 5 in points per possession (1.58 PPP) on cutters and Top 10 on handoffs (1.06 PPP) this season.
Look for him to continue to play at a high level for Minnesota, as they look to make their first playoff appearance in over a decade.