That’s how long it has been since the Minnesota Timberwolves last made the playoffs, good enough for the second longest playoff drought in NBA history behind the Los Angeles Clippers. With the addition of Jimmy Butler last night, that streak should finally come to an end. Minnesota traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the rights to the 7th overall draft pick (Lauri Markkanen) to the Chicago Bulls for Jimmy Butler and the rights to the 16th overall draft pick (Justin Patton). This draft day blockbuster immediately vaults Minnesota into playoff contention and could make them one of the tougher outs come postseason play.
Considered one of the most promising young teams in the NBA over the last few seasons, what the Wolves have sorely lacked is a veteran leader who can not only contribute off the court but on it as well. That’s an important distinction to make, since Minnesota’s rosters’ have consisted of some of the worst veterans in the league (from a production standpoint) during the last several years. It’s hard to win games in the NBA when your three best players are barely old enough to drink. Adding Butler gives Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins a shoulder to lean on when they need it and that should be extremely valuable for the growth of these two young stars. Butler comes off a season where he averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists, which begs the question why the Bulls even wanted to trade him in the first place. However, as they say, what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and the Wolves struck gold with this deal.
While adding Butler is a no-brainer for Minnesota, the departure of Zach LaVine hurts for Minnesota fans, and this is coming from one himself. LaVine is a fan favorite and one of the most promising young players in the league. Although he’ll be coming off a serious knee injury, Chicago gets a potential superstar at the shooting guard position and a key building block for the future. LaVine averaged 18.9 ppg last season and shot nearly 39% from three, which is no joke for a 21-year-old. Factor in that he played alongside ball-dominant players in Wiggins and Towns and we should expect his numbers to go up now that he will be the focal point of the Bulls offense.
In addition to LaVine, the Bulls also received Kris Dunn and the 7th overall pick, which we know is Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona. Kris Dunn was the 5th overall draft pick in the 2016 NBA draft but struggled during his rookie season in Minnesota. Pegged as the most NBA-ready prospect from that draft, Dunn looked anything but the part. He was grossly incompetent at times on the offensive side of the ball and failed to show he had any inkling in understanding how to run an offense. That said, Dunn was fantastic on the defensive end and gave us a peak at his potential into developing into a Tony Allen type defender. If anything, the Bulls get a player who will wreak havoc for opposing guards. The only question that remains is if he can develop into somewhat of a passable offensive player. As for Markkanen, Chicago gets one of the best shooters in the entire draft and a 7fter with high offensive upside. He’s a poor defender and poor rebounder, especially for a guy his size, but let’s give him a few years to see if he can improve those facets of his game. In the end, the Bulls get worse for now, but this trade gives them the chance to rebuild long-term with quality young talent.
As if Jimmy Butler wasn’t enough, the Bulls decided they wanted to sweeten the deal for Minnesota and include the 16th overall pick, which the Wolves turned into Justin Patton out of Creighton. It was an interesting selection with guys like TJ Leaf, John Collins, and Harry Giles all still on the board, but Patton provides the versatility and high upside that make this an intriguing selection. He was one of the most efficient players in the country last year shooting over 68% from the field on eight attempts per game. He has a nice stroke and showed the ability to step out behind the three point line and hit from deep, albeit a small sample size (8/15). It will be interesting to see whether Thibs and Co. view Patton as the long-term center option or want to transition him to the power forward position. Early talks have some thinking Towns could make the move to PF and then Patton would take over for Towns at C. Either way, the potential frontcourt pairing of Towns and Patton could be a scary one down the road.
Next up for Minnesota: free agency. Even with the addition of Butler, the Wolves will be among the league’s teams with the most cap room, which means there are still moves to make. Minnesota blew the most double-digit leads in the NBA last season, largely due to the worst bench in the NBA. If the Wolves can land one or two more quality pieces in free agency, look for this team to contend for a top-4 seed out West. While there is a long way to go before we see that happen, it looks like the Wolves have finally graduated from “spooky” to “scary.”