A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Timberwolves. In case you didn’t read it, I will give you a brief recap. It was a piece being (probably unrealistically) optimistic that the Wolves could be a better team without Jimmy Butler. That his demeanor, his distractions, and his overall horrific presence in the locker room leaving this squad would free up everyone to just play basketball again.
Thus far, they just might be a better team without Jimmy Butler.
After starting 4-9 with Jimmy, the Timberwolves have since gone 7-2 and are 11-11, a half a game back of the 8 seed in the playoffs.
After being ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive rating with Butler in Minnesota, the Wolves have gotten their SEASON TOTAL ranking all the way down to 16th.
Without Jimmy Butler, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the 3rd largest victory in franchise history, beating the San Antonio Spurs 128-89 on Wednesday night. Two important things to note in this game: 1. The Wolves held the Spurs to 9 second quarter points and held them to a 39% shooting percentage for the game. 2. Newly acquired Robert Covington was +44 when he was on the floor, the highest plus/minus in franchise history (other than 4 starters of a 2001 blowout of the Bulls. Shoutout to Joe Smith! – completely worth the 4 1st rounders)!
There are plenty of reasons this turnaround has happened. First, Robert Covington has shined like nobody really thought possible. The current NBA leader in steals has been nothing short of spectacular in his time in Minnesota. Not only is he the steals leader, but he is the only player with over 30 steals and blocks and the only player in the league in the top 20 of each category. Averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds, 2.75 steals, 1 block, and 3 made 3’s a game at a 40% rate, Covington is exactly the “3 and D” support piece that they needed to find success.
Another huge reason the Wolves have been fun to watch is the renaissance of Derrick Rose. Rose is 2nd on the team in scoring at 19 points per game (off the bench mind you! Do I hear MVP chants? Alright maybe just 6th man of the year). Averaging 3 rebounds and 5 assists helps round out his game and sporting a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.7 (which is right behind Towns), Rose has fully exceeded expectations.
This might have to do with his increased focus on being a pesky defender… Or it might have something to do with his 48.6% 3-point percentage, the highest of his career by over 14%. Or it might just do with his endless heart, dedication, and determination to be a great player and teammate. This was seen when Derrick scored a career high 50 points on Halloween in a 128-125 win over the Utah Jazz, as he cried and his teammates mobbed him overjoyed for the former league MVP.
It is amazing what getting rid of a horrible teammate can do to a team’s morale.
Lastly, we cannot forget about the centerpiece, Karl-Anthony Towns. Although he has seen a slight dip in points and field goal percentage, Towns has still been the workhorse and leader of this team. He hasn’t made a big step up like some were hoping, but at 20 points and 12 rebounds on 50% shooting (and 40% from 3), he has been a steady star for this improving by the minute Wolves squad.
You might have noticed that I did not mention Andrew Wiggins. There is a lot to be positive about with the way the Timberwolves are playing and I wanted to focus on that. Averaging a career low in points per game and a shooting percentage that is 7% points worse than his career low, it is sad to think about. Hopefully he can turn things around.
See? Even mentioning Wiggins brought my mood down. Back to the happy thoughts. Jimmy Butler, the arrogant, selfish, mean spirited, horrible teammate is gone and gone for the better. Yes, Jimmy was a great player, but his presence made basketball miserable for everyone.
We might not win a title this year, but I know I am having a heck of a lot more fun watching KAT, Covington, Rose, Gibson, Teague, Dieng, Jones, and Saric play and grow together as a team. And based on their performance and attitude, I would guess they are having more fun playing together too. They might not be a list of All-NBA players, but trust me, the sum is greater than the parts.