Jimmy Butler is playing out of his mind.
Having overcome a slow start to the season, the three-time All-star has scored at least 30 points six different times in December alone, and currently has the Minnesota Timberwolves on a five-game winning streak.
“I hope everyone is recognizing how special [Butler] is,” Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s changed everything for us. Big play after big play. He guards everyone. Hustle plays. Big rebounds in traffic. Passes. Shots. Free throws. Everything.”
The most recent example of his impact on the young Minnesota team came yesterday against the Denver Nuggets, where he scored a season-high 39 points, including 12 in the overtime period to secure the win.
Minnesota(22-13) is currently in fourth place in the Western Conference standings and ranked fourth in the league in offensive efficiency(110.2), which helps as they look to end their 13 season playoff drought. With Butler leading the pack, a playoff run should be expected.
The Chicago Bulls on the other hand were meant to be tanking, looking to add a top 3 pick from the 2018 draft class to fortify the rebuild that was accelerated when they traded Butler.
At first, everything seemed to be going as planned, with a 10-game-losing streak sending them to 3-20 and the bottom of the conference. However, the return of Nikola Mirotic as well as the emergence of Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen reignited life into what was thought to be a hopeless Bulls team.
While averaging a team-leading 17.2 PPG and 7.4 RPG off the bench, Mirotic has helped the Bulls win seven straight and nine of their last eleven.
However it’s the players that the Bulls received in the Butler deal that are solidifying their roles for the long haul. Last year’s No. 5 overall pick, Kris Dunn has played tremendous as of late, inserting himself into the conversation for the NBA Most Improved Player award. In the last 11 games, Dunn has averaged 15.0 PPG, 8.2 APG, and 2.2 SPG.
“I’m not satisfied at all. I think I can do a little bit more,” Dunn said in regard to his improved play and increasing role on the team.
Rookie Lauri Markkanen has averaged 14.2 PPG and 7.2 RPG while starting at the power forward position, and he’s continued to excel despite shooting struggles earlier in the season.
The Bulls have been able to get the most out of the Timberwolves trade despite not having played the centerpiece of the trade, Zach Lavine, as he continues to work his way back from injury. It’s a testament to head coach Fred Hoiberg’s leadership, as he was able to withstand intense criticism and a depleted roster but still was able to implement his system masterfully. The faster pace and crisp passing has been on full display throughout December, and the defense has been improved as well.
The Timberwolves and Bulls meet in Chicago for the first contest between the two teams since the trade, in what looks to be an exciting match-up.
“I got that game marked on my calendar,” Butler said, “Feb. 9, baby—I’m back. Oh, man, they better hope I go 0-for-30, ’cause every basket I score, I’m looking over at the bench and I got something to say.”
By: Adam Tayabali