By: OTP Staff
This is the third piece in a series of articles that will look at each individual position on the Minnesota Timberwolves roster heading into the 2017-18 season. Today we feature the small forwards.
In the transcript below, On The Prowl writers Dan Slaubaugh, Zach More, Jonah Sprinkel, and Louie Vicchiollo discuss what the arrival of Jimmy Butler means to the Timberwolves, then debate what Shabazz Muhammad needs to do to become an impact player in Tom Thibodeau's rotation. This conversation has been lightly edited.
Dan: JIMMY BUTLER WELCOME TO MINNESOTA!
Louie: Has there ever been a better trade in Minnesota sports history? Seriously.
Zach: well…. The Twins trade with the Giants that brought back Joe Nathan and Liriano… but that’s a debate for another time haha.
Jonah: Probably when the Vikings traded for Randy Moss in 2010.
Zach: It’s still unbelievable thinking that he is on this team. I don’t think it will really sink in until we see him on the floor in a game. We all know he is a good player but I don’t think most of us know how impactful he can be to a team. I can’t wait to watch him.
Dan: Butler fits Thibodeau’s preferences perfectly. A fierce, gritty defender who prides himself on being a dominating defensive presence. He’s one of the very best two-way players in the league and has accomplished himself as a go-to scorer in clutch moments.
Louie: One thing I am worried about this season, and not just with Butler, but is that Thibs is going to run him into the ground with too many minutes. Not a lot of players can withstand that many minutes, and losing one of Butler, Wiggins or Towns could prove fatal for the Wolves.
Jonah: I agree, Louie. During the two seasons Butler was a starter under Thibs in Chicago, he logged 38.7 minutes per game. Most of that was before he became a true number one offensive option.
Zach: I agree, this gets away from the Jimmy Butler topic a bit, but I just don’t get how everyone can see that Thibs plays his starters too many minutes, and it’s been an every year thing, yet he doesn’t change. His assistant coaches/owners have to be in his ear a bit telling him to ease off the minutes, right?
Jonah: I’ve said this before, but I’m really surprised Thibs didn’t pick up on the way other coaches manage their players minutes. He took a year off from coaching and traveled to different organizations in order to learn how they were run. From a coaching perspective, I really don’t understand what those trips accomplished.
Zach: We will find out if how bad the bench was did play a part in this. Maybe he did learn something and tried but he is still paid to win game and the bench was a hot mess way too many times last year. I remember multiple occurrences when he would look angrily down his bench and tell his starters to go back in when it looked like they would be out for another minute or two. Then again there were times the Wolves were up 20 with 3 minutes left and he had all of his starters in.
Dan: All great points. This worries me even more considering how rugged of an offensive player Butler is. As Louie has noted previously at OTP, there were two non-point guards who drove to the basket more times a game than Jimmy G. Buckets last season: DeMar DeRozan and LeBron James. Jimmy drives to the basket 9.4 times a game, and he passes out of those drives 38% of the time, which means he is getting fouled, turning it over or taking a shot 62% of the time (he only turns it over 5% of the time). This is why it scares me even more regarding Butler’s minutes. He doesn’t shy away from contact at all. This is a great thing in itself, but not great if Thibs plays him 40+ minutes per night.
Jonah: Do you guys think that Jimmy will transition easily into a role where the focus and responsibility doesn’t all fall on his shoulders?
Dan: Jimmy is a bonafide all-star in the NBA. He’s as professional as they come. Adjusting back to a role where there are other good scorers on the team may be difficult at first. But Jimmy is a smart dude and should gel with this team somewhat quickly. If anything, I think he’s ecstatic that there isn’t so much weight on his shoulders. Takes some of the pressure off.
Zach: Yes I think he will be that same type of player with the Wolves. He is comfortable with the system and the coach and he is just an overall good basketball player. He can score at will and his defense is top notch. I know he doesn’t shoot the ball particularly great but he can score in so many ways, he is so tough to stop.
Louie: Honestly, I think as long as everyone (appears to) want a championship and to win as bad as Jimmy, he will be fine if doesn’t take a single shot in a night. It seems to him all he cares about is winning, and nothing else. He is going to push the people around him to become winners or put them on an island of misfit toys.
Dan: There’s no doubt Jimmy has this city buzzing. Let’s hope he can lead us to the promised land.
Dan: Glad to have you back, Bazzy. Now please show more consistency and pass the ball once every five games.
Jonah: On a scale from one to 10, 10 being over the moon excited, how do you guys feel about Bazz coming back to the team?
Zach: The fact that it was for the vet min and so late in FA when he was the best player it leads you to a little excitement, but in the grand scheme of things maybe a 5. There are games where you just want him off the team and games where he looks like he is 6th man of the year.
Dan: I’ll go 6. A Muhammad-Crawford defensive pairing will have Thibs barking on the sidelines louder than Kevin Malone’s feet when he had to stick them in the ice machine at Jim and Pam’s wedding. He’s a streaky scorer who has the ability to bail out an offense on a bad night. I’m not going to complain about anyone on a vet minimum. Except for Kirk Hinrich. I will complain about Kirk Hinrich.
Jonah: I think I’m at a 5-6 as well. A lot of the holes in Bazz’s game come from simply not being aware of what’s going on around him. If he’s a little more tuned in to his teammates and how to use his skill set he could prove to be a key piece for the Wolves second unit. But like you guys said, at the vet minimum I can’t complain at all.
Louie: I’m at a strong 6, weak 7. I have been to a handful of games where Bazz goes off, and honestly the ferocity he plays with on the offensive side of the ball has a spot in my heart. A dumb, soft spot in my heart.
Zach: It will be interesting to watch Bazz play on a playoff caliber team. Feel like he can either be a very key piece or a guy that may not see the floor if he thinks he is only there to score and doesn’t do it efficiently. Weird to say but every game and minute is going to matter this season for a team who hasn’t been to the playoffs in 13 years.
Dan: I think the biggest key in Shabazz becoming a reliable bench piece is three-point shooting. His three-point percentages by month last year: November 23%, December 40%, January 53%, February 35%, March 12%, April 19%. This defines “streaky”.
Zach: I think a big thing for Bazz is to find out where he is efficient at scoring and really focus on that. He has a couple of hot spots where he shoots very well from 3 and scores well in transition. Know your strengths and pass the ball when you aren’t in one of those situations.
Jonah: Exactly, Zach. Every possession will matter this season (which is weird to say) and the team can’t afford to have Bazz, or anyone, wasting them for selfish reasons.
Dan: For sure. In four years in Minnesota, Bazz hasn’t struck me as a “winning player”. Like you guys said, he can be selfish and tunnel-visioned at times, wasting key opportunities for the offense to create real ball movement. If you look at the defending champion Golden State Warriors, they are filled with pass-first players. If Bazz wants to become a “winner” in this league, he needs to start playing smarter, which will translate into higher efficiency and a well-rounded skillset.