By now, everyone’s heard that Jimmy Butler, Mr. Tough Guy (who’s only played in all 82 games in a season ONCE in his 7 year career; Karl-Anthony Towns, a big soft putty tat according to some, has played all 82 games all three seasons of his career), wants to leave sunny Minnesota for a barren wasteland: New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami. Let’s leave aside the facts that Minnie is great and Mr. Tough Guy has never reached a conference finals, and instead focus on whether splitting up the TimberBulls, a bad idea when it began and an even worse one in retrospect, is a good thing for the players involved.
For starters, Butler being traded to another team, any other team, is a good thing for the Big KAT, Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns IS the Minnesota Timberwolves. If you can’t see that, then you’re basketballing wrong. The dude’s 22, he’s 7 feet tall, he hit better than 40% from three last year (league average was 36%; Jimmy “Uber-Average” Buckets shot 36% from three; Andrew “Jimmy Butler without the defense” Wiggins shot 33% from three; and, yes, the Big KAT, a center, was the best long range shooter on the Timberwolves last season), and Towns was one of only six players to score 20+ points and grab 10+ rebounds last year in the NBA: Big KAT, Run DMC, the Brow, the Freak, the Process, and, uh, the Sarge, Russell Westbrook. He was also the only one of those players who played in all 82 games.
As we’ve said in this space before, Towns is daaaaaamn good.
As a rookie, Towns averaged 14 shots a game; the succeeding year, he averaged 18 shots per game. Last year, after the arrival of Mr. Tough Guy, Towns’ shots decreased back down to 14 per game, even though he was, by far, the best scorer on Minnesota: 54.5 field goal percentage; 42 3PT%; and, a 64.6 true shooting percentage, 5th best in the entire NBA out of players who played in at least 50 games and averaged 25 minutes per game (Steph Curry was #1 with a 67.5 TS%; Kevin Durant was 6th with a 64 TS%). Now that Butler is (most likely) gone, Towns’ field goal attempts should increase.
Butler took 15 shots a game in 2017-18; if even a third of those go to Towns instead, then the Big KAT’s attempts will be 19-ish per game. That would put him in the tier of players like Giannis, LeBron, Dame Lillard, AD, Devin Booker, James Harden, and Sergeant Westbrook: guys who carry the scoring burden on their teams and shoot the most in the league. Only 14 players shot 18+ times per game last year; Towns should be the 15th this year. After the All Star break last year, when Mr. Tough Guy was missing a bunch of games, Towns averaged 16.3 field goal attempts per game (21 games total). Why was I ultra specific with the 16.3 FGA, rather than just rounding down and saying 16? Because 16.3 is also the EXACT same number for Andrew Wiggins, Towns’ teammate.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, This is a bad thing, Wiggins shouldn’t shoot as much as Towns, he’s not nearly as good. Correct. However! It’s not as bad as you think. Post All Star break last year, Wiggins averaged 38% from three. Above average! In fact, Wiggins is one of only 7 players post All Star break who played in at least 20 games, averaged at least 15 shots, and made at least 38% of their threes. The others are Towns, Nikola Jokic, Kemba Walker, Bradley “Kind of a Big” Beal, Tobias “Mayonnaise” Harris, and, Taurean Prince. That’s a list of damn good players! (I know no one knows who Tobias Harris is: that’s why his nickname is Mayonnaise. He’s good, he’s everywhere, but you don’t really notice him, unless there’s way too much of him and not enough of everything else.)
These are the numbers that should make TWolves fans feel optimistic about a post-Butler future. Wiggins did actually improve, at least offensively, when Butler was out for an extended period. Butler’s addition to Minnesota definitely stunted both Wiggins’ and Towns’ development.
All of which is to say that Minnesota is better off without Jimmy Butler. Maybe much, much better. Now, you don’t have to tie up your cap space with a megamax contract for Butler (Minnesota has enough bad contracts already, anyway). Now, you can let Towns and Wiggins, both under 25 years old BTW, play without having to share with Teacher’s Pet Butler. Now, you can focus on building a team around your young stud(s), playing to their strengths, and hopefully keeping their defensive acumen on an upward trajectory. Now, you can play without another dude barking orders at you, maybe play a little freer, a little looser, have a little bit more fun.
Thibs’s coaching style is reminiscent of Bob Knight’s incessant, irritating, and ultimately inhibiting, SCREAM-ALL-THE-TIME style of coaching. And, honestly, if losing Butler means you also lose Thibs, then that should be fine with the Minnesota faithful. His over-reliance on his starters is Bronze Age technology compared to the rest of the league. He’s in a pod race while the rest of the galaxy is fighting above Endor’s moon, y’know? Hopefully, the TWolves don’t play their starters, including Ancient Taj, more than every other team in the NBA. If they do, then the good money says that Towns and/or Wiggins will get seriously injured. Something to think about when you’re drafting your fantasy basketball team.
Speaking of, Towns was the 4th best player in my fantasy league last year (we have more stat categories than ESPN basic, but the player values are fairly similar), and Wiggins was top 100. I think Towns has a case to be made for being the #1 overall pick in drafts, mainly because he seems to be more durable than Anthony Davis. I understand drafting the Freak or Bron or the Brow or the Beard; but, if you’re drafting a debut season in a dynasty league, take a good, long look at the 22 year old who shoots well from outside and has Center eligibility.
Butler, meanwhile, could be an elite fantasy player again, depending on where he lands. If he replicates his 2016-17 season (24 PPG, 37 3PT%, 6 boards, 5.5 assists, 2 steals, and 9 free throw attempts per game) then he’ll basically be Kawhi Leonard. (Full disclosure: I lovelovelove the idea of trading Butler to the Raptors. He and Kawhi could challenge for a chip, if both are healthy. THAT’S how good those guys are, especially on defense. Kyle Lowry and CJ Miles for Butler, Jeff Teague, and Gorgeous Gorgui Dieng works, math-wise. Toronto wouldn’t have to send a pick because they’d be taking on Dieng’s slightly-less-ridiculous-than-Ian-Mahinmi’s contract. Were this trade to happen, the Raptors could field this starting five: Kawhi, Butler, OG Anunoby, Danny Green, and Serge Ibaka/Valanciunas/Dieng. Teague, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Lucas Nogueira coming off the bench would also be extremely awesome. Psst! I also kinda like Malachi Richardson! Anyway, the Raps would be, at least, the second best team in the East, depending on how good you think Boston can be.)
And, yo, let’s give Wiggins, a 23 year old, some love. He improved in the last 20 games last year; he had shown improvement, though incremental, in his career before you-know-who arrived in the Twin Cities; and there’s never really a good/objective reason to doubt such a young player, despite being in the league for four years (Kawhi didn’t average 20 points per game until his fifth year in the league; young players can get better). If he improves even a little bit, even a return to his 2016-17 but with better defense (so, 23 PPG, 4+ rebounds, 2+ assists), then he’d be one of only a dozen players who did that last year (in descending order):
- James Harden
- Anthony Davis
- LeBron James
- Damian Lillard
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Steph Curry
- Kevin Durant
- Russell Westbrook
- Boogie Cousins
- Devin Booker
- LaMarcus Aldridge
- Victor Oladipo
All of those dudes are amazing fantasy players. Why couldn’t Wiggins join them? (Again?)
Wiggins’s current ADP is 80th on fantasypros.com, and yahoo.com has him going similarly. In 2016-17, Wiggins was one of only 20 players who averaged at least 23 points per game (Jimmy Butler was 14th most PPG, Wiggins was 16th most PPG, BTW). Of those 20 players, only 7 are going after the 30th pick in drafts this year: Carmelo Anthony (ADP 111, hahaha! God DAMN, y’all, he’s not gonna be that bad!), Isaiah Thomas (duh, his ADP is 76; who knows with I.T., but he could be another Golden Nugget if he’s totally healthy), Boogie Cousins (duh x2, his ADP is 89, but he’s obviously a dude that could win you your league if you can stash him until he returns from his injury), Gordon Hayward (ADP 40, understandable since we aren’t sure what to expect from him, but he could be elite-elite), Klay Thompson (ADP 34, fine, whatever, but he’s sensational and could be an MVP if he had his own team), C.J. McCollum (ADP 33), Blake Griffin (ADP 32), and Andrew Wiggins. Whose ADP, again, is...80th.
Points are the foundation of fantasy basketball. If Wiggins returns to being one of the highest scoring players in the NBA, then his fantasy value should shoot through the MFing roof, and you suddenly have an elite scorer being drafted as if he were Jonas Valanciunas. I wrote a column last year about an auto draft 12-team league. Wiggins was the 7th Small Forward taken, between Gordon Hayward and Otto Porter, Jr. This year, Gordon Hayward’s ADP (according to fantasypros.com) so far is 40th, and Otto Porter Jr’s is 42nd. Now, Wiggins is going 40 picks later, despite the fact that his situation is about to improve TREMENDOUSLY.
I think this eventual trade will work out well for all parties. Wiggins and Towns can’t grow with Butler on their team, and Butler doesn’t seem to think that he can be his best with them on his. Tough but fair, for all involved. Hopefully, Minnesota gets some depth, or picks, and realizes that you don’t have to make the playoffs every year when your best players are 23 and 22. And, hopefully, Jimmy Butler lands somewhere where he can display his immense talents and get paid properly. (I do think that the Wizards make sense, Toronto would be extremely awesome, maybe something crazy like Utah, or, ugh, fine, something boring like Brooklyn.) Regardless, the marriage didn’t work: end it before you have children, y’know? Everyone’s gonna be just fine.
And, in a strange, Minnesota kinda way, Andrew Wiggins might just be the biggest winner out of all of this, aside from the savvy owners who buy low on the young man.
All stats courtesy of the wonderful websites NBA.com, Basketball-Reference.com, FantasyPros.com, Yahoo.com, and ESPN.com.