The Minnesota Timberwolves Won the Jimmy Butler Trade by a Mile

Looking at the numbers, it's hard to see this deal as anything but a loss for the Chicago Bulls.

Jimmy Butler's name has been popping up in trade rumors for months, and a deal was finally consummated during Thursday night's NBA Draft.

There were many teams vying to acquire the now former member of the Chicago Bulls, but ultimately, it was the up-and-coming Minnesota Timberwolves that made it happen, likely jumping from a lottery team to playoff contender in one fell swoop.

There are many ways ultimately to justify the Bulls' decision to trade Butler, but it's hard to come up with why this particular deal was worth making. There are, however, plenty of reasons why Timberwolves fans should be ecstatic with the move.

First of all...

Jimmy Butler Is a Superstar

Simply put, Jimmy Butler is one of the best players in the NBA.

He's coming off a career season in which he averaged 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game (all career highs), while shooting 45.5% from the field, 36.7% from deep, and 86.5% from the line. He was named to his third consecutive All-Star team for his efforts and made an All-NBA squad for the first time (Third Team).

By most advanced metrics, Butler was a top-10 NBA player. He finished the season ranked 3rd in win shares (13.8), 6th in win shares per 48 minutes (.236), 10th in box plus/minus (6.9), and 5th in value over replacement player (6.3).

In terms of nERD -- our proprietary metric that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on efficiency -- Butler ranked fifth in the entire Association last season at 17.3, trailing only Kawhi Leonard (19.5), Rudy Gobert (17.8), James Harden (17.8), and Kevin Durant (17.6), while outpacing the likes of Stephen Curry (15.9), Russell Westbrook (15.1), LeBron James (14.3), and every other NBA star you can think of.

Jimmy Butler is a great player on both sides of the ball, he's only 27 years old, he's still got three years left on his contract (with a player option in the third and final season in 2019-20), and is -- as of now -- heading into the 2017-18 season as only the league's 26th-highest paid player (a list on which he's going to get pushed even further down with each subsequent free agency period).

Combine that level of player with two other budding superstars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins? You've got yourself a very fun squad in Minnesota.

Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn Both Have Question Marks

Zach LaVine is best known for dunking -- both in-game slams and his famous dunk contest performances -- but his overall game isn't all that refined.

The 22-year-old is a decent enough three-point shooter (37.8% career mark) and can score in bunches (averaging a career-high 18.9 points per game in 2016-17), but his game is predicated largely on athleticism, and he'll be coming off a torn ACL when he joins the Bulls at some point this season. What's more, he'll enter restricted free agency next summer, following a season in which he'll be recovering from a brutal injury.

LaVine is shaping up to be a decent enough NBA player, but the Wolves have saved themselves the headache of trying to evaluate his worth after what will likely be a down recovery season.

As for Kris Dunn, last year's fifth overall pick, he had an underwhelming rookie season, to say the least.

The now 23-year-old averaged a measly 3.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.0 steal in 17.1 minutes per game during his 78 contests, while shooting 37.7% from the field and 28.8% from three-point range. It's way too early to start throwing around the "bust" tag, but it's worth noting that of the 486 NBA players ranked in our NBA Player Power Rankings, Dunn finished 474th with a nERD of -5.6.

Toss in LaVine's -1.0 mark (ranked 300th), and the Wolves are acquiring a 17.3 nERD player and shipping out a combined -6.6. Considering the fact that nERD is a ranking that gives an estimate of how many games above or below .500 a league-average team would win with the player in question as one of its starters, you could say that the Wolves just got roughly 23.9 wins better. That's not a precise projection or anything, but you get the point.

To drive the point home further, our top comparable seasons for Zach LaVine's 2016-17 are Joe Johnson's 2013-14 (91.92% match), Desmond Mason's 2004-05 (91.12% match), and Jalen Rose's 2004-05 (90.54%), while Kris Dunn's were Diante Garrett's 2013-14 (90.46%), O.J. Mayo's 2015-16 (89.84%), and Earl Watson's 2010-11 (89.15%).

In other words, LaVine puts up numbers like an over-the-hill Joe Johnson or the twilight-of-his-career version of Jalen Rose who let Kobe drop 81 on him, while Dunn's top-two comparables in Garrett and Mayo were both guys playing at a level that didn't get them signed on an NBA team the following season (and neither has played an NBA game since).

Jimmy Butler's top comparables for last season? LeBron James three damn times: 2004-05 (91.85%), 2007-08 (91.58%), and 2006-07 (91.30%).

You get the point.

The Rookies Could Be a Wash

The Wolves may have given up the 7th pick in last night's draft to get Butler, but the Bulls even sent back their 16th selection with Jimmy.

Chicago selected the stretch forward Lauri Markkanen from Arizona at seven, while the Wolves ended up with Creighton big Justin Patton.

According to ESPN's NBA-Caliber Player Percentage, here's how those two compare:

Player NBA-Caliber All-Star Starter Role Player
Lauri Markkanen 52.88% 1.95% 25.93% 25.01%
Justin Patton 33.57% 0.74% 13.93% 18.89%

Given the degree to which we really have no idea how either of these players will ultimately turn out, these percentages are close enough that we can't really call Chicago's pick upgrade a slam dunk.

At the end of the day, if selecting Markkanen was the main reason for the Bulls wanting to make this deal, Butler is a lot to give up for someone who basically has a 50/50 chance of even being an NBA-caliber player.

In the meantime, Minnesota surely has no problem with developing a guy who has a one-in-three chance of hitting while enjoying two to three years of a superstar.

The Verdict

The Bulls are clearly signaling the start of their rebuild, and if their only goal was simply to get younger and acquire some potential upside for the future, they certainly did that.

That said, there's a legitimate risk that neither LaVine, Dunn, nor Markkanen ever becomes anything close to what Jimmy already is. Throw in the fact that Butler is still relatively young himself and on an increasingly team-friendly deal, and this trade -- at least today -- looks like a big and clear win for Minnesota. Especially when you consider the fact that their time for rebuilding is long overdue to be over:

The Wolves have two superstars in waiting and just turned three relative question marks into an exclamation mark. Look out.