Impact of the Jimmy Butler Trade

Jimmy Butler speaking with Timberwolves coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau during their tenure in Chicago. (Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Draft Night

During the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday night the Chicago Bulls traded longtime star Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the 7th overall pick in this year’s draft. The Bulls also sent the Timberwolves the 16th overall pick in this year’s draft.

The Trade

Chicago Bulls Receive

  • Zach LaVine
  • Kris Dunn
  • 2017 1st Round Draft Pick (7th overall, later used to select Lauri Markkanen)

Minnesota Timberwolves Receive

  • Jimmy Butler
  • 2017 1st Round Draft Pick (16th overall, later used to select Justin Patton)

Impact on the Bulls

When the Bulls decided to trade Butler, they accepted a few years as a team flirting with the cellar. They may not be one of the worst teams in the league, but life’s going to be rough out in Chicago. Without Butler on the floor the Bulls turned into the Lakers.

The Bulls with and without Butler on the floor.

The Bulls received LaVine, Dunn, and Markkanen for giving up Butler. LaVine is one of the better young talents in the league. Last season he averaged 18.1 points per game, and shot 38.71% from 3. His combination of athleticism and shooting ability is nearly unmatched. Despite the obvious talent oozing from his 6'6" frame, LaVine does not come without risk.

During a February 3rd match-up with the Detroit Pistons LaVine exited the game with a left knee injury. The MRI spit back the worst possible news. LaVine would miss the remainder of the season with a torn left ACL.

Last season GM’s around the NBA voted Dunn as the most likely player to win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. 46.7% (14/30) saw Dunn as the favorite. Once the season began, it was apparent that he was in over his head. His effective field goal percentage was an abysmal 41.05%, and his true shooting percentage wasn’t much better at 43.22%. Defensively he was as good as advertised.

Kris Dunn’s defensive Synergy numbers from last season.

With the 7th overall draft pick the Timberwolves selected Markkanen for the Bulls. During his one and only season at Arizona, he killed sagging defenses with his compact shooting stroke. Measured at 7'0", Markkanen paired his size with a high release to create a nearly unguardable shot. As a freshman last season he averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

As gifted as he is offensively, Markkanen is not a fool-proof prospect. Not many 7-footers shoot 42.33% from 3 on 4.4 attempts per game; however, his lack of top-end foot speed and athleticism made defense a challenge. Rim protection projects as a major issue at the next level.

Impact on the Timberwolves

Whenever a franchise lands one of the 15–20 best players in the league, they can expect massive improvement. Butler will join Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins as the Timberwolves’ building blocks of the future. His contract over the next 2 seasons is one of the best bargains in basketball (3-Years/$58,380,166/Player Option for 3rd Year).

No other player in the NBA averaged more points (23.9), rebounds (6.2), assists (5.5), and steals (1.9), than Butler did last season. He truly is one of the most versatility players in the NBA. Very few are able to impact the game in the way he does offensively while maintaining the same elite-level defense.

With the 16th overall draft pick the Timberwolves had the Bulls select Justin Patton for them. Patton projects as more of a project player who needs to refine his outside stroke. Last season he shot 53.33% from 3 (On just 15 attempts), but only 51.72% from the foul line. His athletic ability projects well on the defensive end, but he appears to be a few years away from contributing.

Implementing Butler offensively won’t be seamless for Minnesota. He is a player who is at his best with the ball in his hands. Butler getting his share offensively takes the ball out of Ricky Rubio’s hands, putting a career 31.48% 3-point shooter in a less effective off ball role.

Post all-star break Rubio had shooting splits of 42.00 FG%/35.30 3P%/91.73 FT%/46.10 eFG%/54.99 TS%. If Rubio continues his relative hot hand into next season the Timberwolves could make it work; however, it is not wise to trust a 24 game stretch over a career of ineffective shooting. If the Timberwolves free up some more cap space they should look into Jrue Holiday and George Hill as potential upgrades.

Moving Forward

This year and beyond holds some dark days for Chicago Bulls fans. Just ask fans of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who twice had to experience the loss of a star. It’s also reasonable to question whether or not Chicago could’ve gotten more than they did for Butler. Markkanen is an unproven rookie, and Dunn had a rocky rookie season.

The best asset the Bulls got in return is Zach LaVine. LaVine is a great talent, but he comes with some baggage. Not only is he working his way back from a career-altering injury, the Bulls also have to make a decision about extending him before he even plays a game for them.

If both parties agree to a long-term deal and LaVine struggles to regain form upon his return, the Bulls are then looking at possessing damaged goods. The other side of this is if a long-term agreement is not reached before the deadline, the Bulls will have to play the restricted free agency game in the off-season.

For Minnesota, Butler should give them the necessary lift they need to contend for a playoff spot. With 2 years of team control they will get more than enough time to make a favorable impression for Butler’s impending free agency, which will be his first time on the open market.

Chicago throwing in the 16th pick in this year’s draft was a cherry on top for Minnesota. Patton will likely spend time down with the Iowa Wolves down in the G-League. Expectations are going to be low entering his 1st season, which will allow more time for him to ferment and develop.

With free agency to follow it’s tough to make any big time predictions. After the dust settles Minnesota will look to make the playoffs for the 1st time since the 2003–2004 season. Chicago will likely be in the running for a top-5 draft pick. Two franchises made drastic changes today that substantially altered their future, we’ll now see where both teams head from here.

All statistics via Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.