Who Really Won the Jimmy Butler Trade?
Anytime you trade a three-time All-Star -- especially in the prime of his career -- you are going to catch some heat.
When the Chicago Bulls sent Jimmy Butler and the 2016 16th overall pick (Justin Patton) to the Minnesota Timberwolves last June for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th overall pick (Lauri Markkanen), Twitter came out in full force to trash the swap.
I don't really know what the Bulls are doing, fam
— Chris Herring (@Herring_NBA) June 23, 2017
You traded Butler for a 23-year old PG that can’t shoot, and a 22-year old guard that relies on his athleticism coming off a torn ACL.
— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) June 22, 2017
If this was the best offer the Chicago Bulls got for Jimmy Butler, I would have kept him. I'm stunned no other team was able to beat it.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) June 22, 2017
The general consensus at the time of the deal was the trade was another one in the long line of GarPax's failed maneuvers. But was it?
While not as exciting as a hot take, let's use some hindsight, nearly seven months later, and break down the trade to see if either team -- or both -- made out like bandits.
Butler's Impact on T-Wolves
The Timberwolves knew what they were getting when they agreed to the deal back on June 22, and 47 games later, Butler has not disappointed. A top-15 player -- All-NBA Third team in 2016-17 -- with the ability to play both ends of the floor, Butler has transformed a team with potential but disappointing results into one bound for the postseason.
He has made his teammates better and has maintained his own elite level play, all while adjusting to a change of scenery and added pressure as the team's "savior."
Three months into the 2017-18 season, Butler's numbers are strikingly similar to his averages the last three seasons with Chicago, even with a rough adjustment period. He averaged 17.5 points on 44.0% shooting his first 20 games. In the last six weeks, though, the All-Star swingman has taken his game to another level.
|Jimmy Butler Splits||PTS||REB||AST||STL||TS%||ORtg||DRtg|
|2017-18 (Since 12-1)||25.0||5.3||5.4||2.2||62.3||114.7||104.1|
Since December 1, the Timberwolves have thrived, going 16-9 and shooting up to fourth in the Western Conference. They are the fifth-best team in the Association, according to our metrics, and are on pace for over 50 wins, their most since 2003-04, not coincidentally the last time the made the playoffs.
While Butler is not the sole reason for the improvement (additions of Jeff Teague and Taj Gibson have helped), his role as the go-to-guy when needing a clutch basket or a defensive stop has helped improve their all-around game.
|Timberwolves||2016-17||Rank||2017-18||Rank||Since Dec. 1||Rank|
|Points per Game||105.6||13||108.4||6||109.0||6|
So with Butler performing at or above expectations and Minnesota poised to snap a 14-year playoff drought, it would seem like the Timberwolves are the runaway winners of the swap.
Not so fast.
Let's take a look at how the Bulls made off.
Building a Solid Core
Calling Dunn a disaster in his rookie year would be generous. The fifth-overall pick of 2016 stepped into a T-Wolves squad with possibly unreasonable expectations.
He averaged 2.3 points point per game while shooting 37.7% from the floor including 28.8% from three. His 43.2% true shooting placed the former Providence Friar as one of the worst rookies in the last 20 years. Only five other first-year players shot worse than Dunn while attempting at least 300 field goal attempts since 1998.
While it is not unusual for first-year players to struggle with their shot, the knocks on Dunn extended beyond the inability to sink jumpers. Dunn posted a higher turnover rate (20.8%) than assist rate (19.4%), not an enviable feat from your potential franchise point guard.
This season, though, Dunn has been able to clear the much-lowered bar of expectations and has started to live up to the hype that comes with being a top-five pick. Averaging 13.7 points, 6.4 assists, and 2.1 steals per game, Dunn not only is trouncing his averages from a year ago, but he also joins Russell Westbrook as the only players to achieve that stat line this season.
Dunn hasn't been doing it alone either, as Markkanen has been one of the more underrated rookies this season and also owns nickname just as devastating as his long-distance shot: the "Finnisher."
The Finland native's skill set fits perfectly with today's NBA as he can crash the glass -- his 7.6 rebounds per game ranks second among rookies -- and shoot lights out from beyond the arc. Markkanen joins Ben Simmons as the only rookies this season to average at least 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. The former Arizona Wildcat's 2.5 threes per game are the most ever for a first-year player, and the records don't stop there for Markkanen.
Congrats to @MarkkanenLauri for becoming the fastest player to 100 career 3s in NBA history. He did it in just 41 games, the previous record (held by @Dame_Lillard) stood at 44 games!
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 15, 2018
The 20-year-old continues to grow as the season progresses, too. He is averaging 18.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.6 three-pointers per game while posting a 65.6% true shooting percentage in the month of January.
The promising play of Markkkanen and Dunn have changed the vibe in Chicago. It appears the deal may not have been a disaster for the Bulls, and we haven't even talked about the centerpiece of the trade, LaVine.
In his three seasons with Minnesota, LaVine was on the verge of superstardom. From his thrilling showdown with Aaron Gordon in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest to his explosive scoring potential, 18.9 points per game in 2016-17, the 21-year-old guard was destined for big things.
The knocks on the Bulls' acquisition of LaVine stem from the uncertainty surrounding his recovery from an ACL tear last February. Bulls fans are all too familiar with guards suffering devastating knee injuries and never looking the same afterward. No one wants to relieve the failed promise of Derrick Rose all over again.
Even with just three games under his belt in a Bulls uniform, LaVine has flashed the athleticism and excitement that made him the main prize of the trade. In his second game back, he dropped 18 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists in only 20 minutes against the Miami Heat. More important than his overall numbers was the bounce LaVine has shown in his step during the three games.
A New Hope?
The fact the Bulls are on pace for 31 wins would have been incomprehensible before the season. Routinely picked to finish at the bottom of the standings, the Bulls played the part to a tee, winning just 3 of their first 23 games.
However, Fred Hoiberg's squad has matured and started to gel, turning heads around the league in the last month-plus due to their offensive turnaround.
|Bulls' Offense||2016-17||Rank||Since Dec. 1||Rank|
|Points per Game||102.9||23||110.6||5|
|Three-Point Makes per Game||7.6||28||11.2||6|
|Effective Field Goal Percentage||48.7%||30||52.9%||11|
Since December 8th, the Bulls have been a top-10 team in the NBA. The offense has looked potent and explosive. They have gone 14-8 and are making the future in the Windy City look bright once again.
Undoubtedly, the T-Wolves got a win out of the trade. Butler has been exactly what they needed. He has brought leadership and veteran experience to a young core and has the squad on the verge of returning to the postseason.
The Bulls, though, are a surprise winner from the deal as well. The trio of Dunn, Markkanen, and LaVine have brought renewed faith and excitement to their fanbase as they represent hope and promise that the rebuild in Chicago may not be a long one.
So it seems safe to say that those critical of the deal were wrong. The transaction between Minnesota and Chicago has resulted in a rarity in the NBA: a win-win for both clubs.