David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Jimmy Butler Is The Leader The Wolves Needed
“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.”
Tom Thibodeau said that on Jan. 5 to a group of reporters in Boston about Jimmy Butler.
Thibodeau probably didn’t think the best was yet to come with Butler. Or maybe he did. But since the team’s seven-point loss in Boston, the Wolves have had three dominating wins by an average of 21 points.
In those three wins over the Pelicans, Cavaliers and Thunder, Butler has been on triple-double watch, averaging 22.7 points, 8.3 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game while shooting 51.2 percent from the field, 70 percent from the 3-point line and 86.4 percent from the free-throw line.
To start the season, Butler’s identity with the team wasn’t exactly clear. It couldn’t be clearer now. Butler is the team’s go-to scorer and has flipped a defense from one of the worst to one of the best. Since Dec. 18, the Wolves have ranked fourth in defensive net rating and fourth in defensive points per game allowed.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins deserve credit in that department, but much of that stems from Butler’s leadership. He’s not afraid to be blunt and voice his opinion.
After Minnesota’s 28-point win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, Butler would have liked more from his team late in the game.
“Sustaining, yeah, but I think we would like to build upon those leads,” Butler said. “Learn to put teams away. But a win is a win, especially against the Cavs. They are a really good team. Whenever we’re playing like that, just to continue to build on the lead. I liked the way we played for three quarters.”
The Wolves were outscored 32-25 in the fourth quarter, but by then the game was far out of reach. But the point Butler is making is a good one and is a big reason why the Wolves have been so much better in close games this season.
Minnesota is 27-16 on the season, fourth in the West and just a game back from the No. 3 seed. The thought of “just getting to the playoffs” is no more for the Wolves. It’s about seeing what they can do when they get there.
On the season, Butler is averaging 21.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and a career-high two steals per game. He’s also shooting a career-high 47.1 percent from the field.
Butler should be representing the team next month at the All-Star Game in Los Angeles. And if the Wolves keep playing like they are playing, he should absolutely be part of MVP discussions once the season concludes.