November 22, 2017

Minnesota Timberwolves

1.) Does reuniting Jimmy Butler with Tom Thibodeau move the Timberwolves into playoff contention in the Western Conference?

Bryan Toporek: I’d say so, although they might have gotten there even without the trade. The young Timberwolves were a popular playoff pick last season, and while they disappointed relative to expectations, they’re all now a year older and have a full season’s worth of experience in Tom Thibodeau’s schemes. Add a top-15 league-wide player in Jimmy Butler to that core and they’re going to add at least 10 wins, especially seeing as Kris Dunn hardly made an impact in 2016-2017 and LaVine is a huge question mark after tearing his ACL. A 45-win campaign isn’t out of the question, especially if Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins each take another step forward (as expected).

Morten Stig Jensen: It does more than that. It propels them into at least the second round, with Butler finally having an opportunity to prove he’s an MVP caliber player solely due to the fact that he no longer has to do everything.

Adding a Top 10 league talent to a team with such a healthy young base, and giving up virtually nothing of significant value (LaVine had value, but his ACL tear makes his future more of a question mark given how much he relies on athleticism) represents an almost perverse level of upgrade. The Wolves got better offensively, defensively and they now have a guy who can play three positions (yes, even point guard) who is amongst the league’s best perimeter defenders. Adding that to a young core who is going to enter their second season with Tom Thibodeau, and there’s no way they won’t be a high-caliber team next season.

Torkil Bang: They were already there, but they’re closing in on the top four in the West now. Only the Warriors and the Spurs are out of reach in my opinion.

The Timberwolves had a terrible defense last season, which is ironic because Thibodeau’s coaching resume is based on great defense, but not totally surprising since the Timberwolves have been in the bottom since Rick Adelman left town.

LaVine might not be the biggest problem with the Timberwolves’ defense, but he isn’t exactly a lockdown defender and makes mistakes. Enter Butler, who has All-Defensive Team merits and knows Thibs’s defense like the back of his hand. This could radically change the team defense for the better.

James Holas: You would have to think so, right? Jimmy Butler is a top 15 (arguably top 10) player in the NBA. If LeBron James and Kevin Durant set the standard for versatile wings, Butler is just a cut below, bringing energy on defense and dogged ferocity on offense. The list of NBA players to match or exceed his 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game on 45 percent shooting is littered with greats like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan.

Adding a bonafide star to Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns instantly pushes them to the status of a playoff team; the real question is, does it push them to “top 4” in the West? Is there enough shooting on the roster? Will we see Wiggins and Towns make a leap this season, and with Butler, form a defensive buzzsaw? Coach Thibs and the Wolves have plenty of of work to do, but adding Jimmy Butler is a damn good start.

2.) How do Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns work as a core? What problems will they have to overcome?

Bryan Toporek: Defensively, they’re going to be a nightmare for opponents. Butler will help alleviate Wiggins’ workload while teaching him the ropes of shutting down opposing wings, and the latter has the physical tools to develop into a first-team All-Defense player someday. Offensively, each can go off for 20-plus points without warning, but long-range shooting could continue to plague the Timberwolves moving forward. Minnesota ranked dead last in both 3-pointers made (7.3) and attempted (21.0) per game last season, and LaVine was the team’s best shooter from deep (38.7 percent). Butler knocked down a career-high 91 triples on 36.7 percent shooting last season, so it’s not as though the Butler-Wiggins-Towns core will be as challenged spacing-wise as the Grit ‘n’ Grind Memphis Grizzlies, but adding a sniper like JJ Redick in free agency would help alleviate many of those concerns.

Morten Stig Jensen: Butler is, by far, the most complete player in that trio and should enter as the clear leader of the team. Towns, as great as he is as a scorer and rebounder, needs to pick it up defensively for his third season, but Butler’s production presents a wonderful opportunity for Towns to concentrate more on defense, seeing as he won’t have to drop 25 a night for the Wolves to be in the game.

Wiggins is the guy in most need of rounding out his game. At an athletic 6’8”, he remains a horrible rebounder (a TRB% of 6.3 is downright unacceptable) and has never been much of a playmaker for others, which his 0.957 assist-to-turnover ratio can attest to. More worrying, however, is the fact that his defense remains sketchy. He’s clearly a tier below Butler and Towns, and if the Wolves wish to become contenders, he has to take significant steps in every area that doesn’t include scoring. If he doesn’t, there’s every reason for the Wolves to shop him.

Torkil Bang: While all three players have 3-point range and can create for themselves and others, the Timberwolves don’t have any designated 3-point shooters in the starting lineup, for now. It might force Wiggins to become more of a 3-and-D specialist. I’m not saying Wiggins could become expendable, but if anyone has to adjust it is most likely him.

It will be interesting to see whether Thibs will put the ball more in Butler’s hands, like Hoiberg did, which could put Ricky Rubio in a tight spot.

James Holas: It’s never a bad thing, having the most talent possible on a team, but in some cases the fit can be wonky. LeBron and Dwyane Wade had a lot of overlap and it took them a season to figure out how to coexist and really thrive.

We might see a little of that in Minnesota. Both Wiggins and Butler like to size up defenders with the ball in their hands, and while Jimmy is the present, Towns is the future and his talent demands that he see the ball a ton. The good thing is that, unlike with Wade and Bron (who tussled a bit over who was the team “alpha dog” in the first year), Butler’s status as the top dog should be pretty clear from day one. He’s the established star brought in to join his former coach and help lead the Timberpups.

Other than that, no one can complain about having three athletic, skilled players who can score in a variety of ways. Wiggins, in particular, can soak up tips from Butler on how to leverage his tools on the court and would do well to try and mirror Butler’s defensive techniques. Having two scoring threats like Wiggins and Butler means Towns will be able to operate with more breathing room and it’s easy to envision him shooting threes unfettered and streaking to the rim with a lone defender on his hip, instead of trying to navigate a thicket of arms and legs.

While Wiggins can have tunnel vision, Butler and Towns are the perfect playmaking duo to off-set Andrew’s nose for scoring.

The biggest obstacle will be figuring out an offense that incorporates all three without marginalizing anyone. Ricky Rubio, for all of his shortcomings, might be the perfect point guard to play with this trio (well, old Jason Kidd actually would be perfect; Rubio’s crap 3-point shooting isn’t ideal).

3.) What other moves do the Timberwolves need to make?

Bryan Toporek: With Dunn and LaVine gone, they’ll need to fill out their point guard depth chart, as Tyus Jones is the only other floor general they have under contract next season. They likely won’t swing for the fences on a big-name point guard so long as Ricky Rubio remains in town, but a second-tier option such as Patty Mills, Darren Collison or Ty Lawson could be an option. Perhaps Derrick Rose would want to reunite with Thibs and Butler? Beyond that, they need to add shooters around the Butler-Wiggins-Rubio-Towns core, and bringing in a Thibs-seasoned veteran like Taj Gibson could provide some much-needed veteran leadership and toughness.

Morten Stig Jensen: They still need a power forward who is tailored to play next to Towns and Oklahoma City’s Taj Gibson fits the bill. Gibson, who also played under Thibodeau in Chicago, is a superbly gifted defensive player who adds toughness at the rim and quick enough feet to hedge effectively on the perimeter. The one lack in Gibson’s game, a long-range jump shot, is a problem, but his defensive impact negates that to some extent. If the Wolves walk away with Butler and Gibson as their main acquisitions of the summer, there’s nothing to suggest why the Wolves shouldn’t become a Top 10 defensive team.

Torkil Bang: They would probably have to move Gorgui Dieng if they are in the market for the top tier free agents, but otherwise there are other fish in the sea.

As mentioned above, they could use a designated 3-point shooter, preferably a stretch big man. Serge Ibaka should come at a reasonable price. He’s a close to 40 percent shooter from behind the arc, and though he’s not a DPOY candidate any longer, he knows how to anchor a defense. Kelly Olynyk is a restricted free agent but might be cut loose by the Celtics. He could be a main cog in the second unit who can also fill in as a 3-point shooter and playmaker with the starters, if needed.

James Holas: The Wolves should burning up the phones contacting any shooter with a pulse from the last 10 years. Trying to retain Brandon Rush should become a priority. Kyle Korver should be target number one. Anthony Morrow should get a fruit basket. Anyone have Eddie House’s pager number?

Gorgui Dieng is okay and rookie Justin Patton has the size and tools to be a defensive asset, but it’d behoove Thibs to search for some interior presence.

Chicago Bulls

1.) Was this the right move at the right time for Chicago?

Bryan Toporek: Yes and no, respectively. The Bulls needed to move on from Butler, largely because they weren’t going anywhere beyond the first round of the playoffs with him (at best) and they could have been facing a Paul George-esque ultimatum in a year’s time. However, the return Chicago got was laughable, especially considering the Bulls had to include their own pick. Zach LaVine showed promise during his time in Minnesota, but he’s four-and-a-half months removed from tearing his ACL and will be a restricted free agent next summer. Former No. 5 overall pick Kris Dunn was billed as one of the most NBA-ready prospects in last year’s draft class, but he proved anything but as a rookie last season. The Bulls did well to get Minnesota’s No. 7 overall pick, but taking Lauri Markkanen there could come back to bite them if Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, Malik Monk or Zach Collins develop into stars. Team president John Paxson attempted to save face by saying this was the best offer Chicago received for Butler at any time, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Herring, but that reeks of as much bullshit as Danny Ainge saying the Celtics would have drafted Jayson Tatum first overall.

Morten Stig Jensen: No. Butler was on a fantastic deal signed in 2015 before the cap spike and had two years remaining on that deal. There was no rush to move him as long as the trade offers coming in weren’t better than they allegedly were, so a superior option would have been to build around him, which is something the Bulls FO had generally failed at doing for a while. So, unless you take a somewhat wicked perspective of “Well, Bulls management couldn’t figure out to build around Butler anyway, so why not light the boat on fire,” there’s no reason to accept this deal.

At the end of the day, John Paxson and Gar Forman once again failed at their job by not only signing Rondo and Wade last year to pair with Butler, which is no way to build around him, and now in this trade where they accepted far below his value, and even threw in the 16th pick for no reason at all.

Torkil Bang: Moving Butler and going into a rebuild with some young talent was the right move at the right time, considering how the Bulls have messed things up for themselves with the Rondo-Wade deals last summer (and other stuff). I don’t like this package, though.

James Holas: The Bulls should have made this move a year or two ago, but better late than never, I guess. For years, Chicago was in this weird space, churning through the roster and haphazardly adding and trading pieces. I get trading Taj Gibson, but for Cam Payne? Seriously? And sending a young shooter with potential like Doug McDermott in that deal? Mystifying.

2.) How would you rate the first pieces of this rebuild, with Zach LaVine as the centerpiece, for the Bulls?

Bryan Toporek: Assuming LaVine returns to his pre-torn ACL form, he’ll be a star scorer for the Bulls. He averaged nearly 19 points per game last year in Minnesota as a third wheel next to Towns and Wiggins, but he’ll face no such competition on the rebuilding Bulls roster outside of Dwyane Wade.

Defensively, LaVine ranked 441st out of 468 players in ESPN.com’s defensive real plus-minus last year, so Chicago fans who’ve grown fond of Butler’s two-way excellence will be in for a rude awakening. Dunn was highly touted coming out of Providence last June, but he face planted as a rookie, shooting 37.7 percent from the floor and finishing his debut campaign with an 8.1 player efficiency rating. He’s immediately the best young point guard on Chicago’s roster, but that’s more of an indictment of the Bulls’ depth chart than an affirmation of his talent.

In theory, Markkanen should be the heir apparent to restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic, but Paxson said Thursday that the team hopes to bring Niko back, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. It’s flabbergasting that the Bulls couldn’t receive more for a top-15 player with two years remaining on a below-market deal, but GarPax gonna GarPax.

Morten Stig Jensen:  Zach LaVine is an athletic wing who doesn’t have a sound defensive understanding, even when healthy; and if this ACL tear limits his mobility I’m not sure the Bulls got more than an average player.

That is the pessimistic view of it, however. If LaVine proves able to come back healthy without having lost that physical edge, there’s an athletic potential to him that theoretically could make him a decent defender if he learns how to move his feet and get in the right position. Having said that, he will play under Fred Hoiberg and not Tom Thibodeau, suggesting what he was taught over 47 games will probably go further than what Hoiberg can teach him over several seasons. As for Kris Dunn, he had such a disappointed rookie season that it’d take a historic turnaround for him to become good. At 23, Dunn is also older and won’t have as much potential to dig into. As of right now, he projects as quite underwhelming.

Torkil Bang: LaVine comes off an ACL tear, and that is obviously not great, especially for a player whose greatest gift is his athleticism. He will probably still be a high-volume scorer with good percentages, but his decision-making and general basketball IQ had Timberwolves fans pulling their hair out. He might grow out of it, but he could also end up as a rich man’s Nick Young. That isn’t a terrible player, but considering they gave up Butler, not great as the centerpiece.

Dunn is like the toý you wanted last year for Christmas and didn’t get, and even though you now know that this toy isn’t as great as advertised, you can’t resist when you get the chance to trade your best baseball card for it.

I really like Markkanen’s shooting, but I fear for the rest of his game in the NBA.

Overall, it’s hard to imagine that the Bulls couldn’t get a much better package for Butler.

James Holas: I’m really high on LaVine, who was coming into his own before that injury. Numbers aren’t everything, but LaVine was one of 12 players to average 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game with 38.7 percent 3-point shooting last season, and the list puts him in pretty good company. ACL injuries are no longer career ruiners, so if he returns at close to 100 percent, the Bulls have themselves an exciting offensive centerpiece.

I loved Dunn coming out of college. He’s been as good as advertised on defense but his offense disappointed mightily and, at 23 years old, I’m not sure how much better he gets. I still have faith in him. He looks too much like Cotton Mouth from Netflix’s Luke Cage for me not to. The Bulls drafting Lauri Markkanen with the seventh pick almost made me vomit. No doubt, Markkanen helps a more established as a pick in the 20s or the second round, but to reach for a 7-footer with scoring touch and not much else while there were players like Dennis Smith Jr on the board is just insanity.

3.) What immediate moves do you think Chicago needs to make from here?

Bryan Toporek: The first step should be waiving Rajon Rondo, who only has $3 million guaranteed on his $13.4 million contract for 2017-18 up until June 30. With the Bulls now in the midst of a full-fledged rebuild, a moody veteran like Rondo has no place in Chicago sans Butler. Beyond that, the Bulls should go all-in on the youth movement at this point. Don’t overpay veterans in free agency who won’t be part of the long-term core. Instead, gamble on young prospects who have fallen out of favor, even if it means taking on bad contracts in exchange. They should attempt to emulate what the Brooklyn Nets just did with D’Angelo Russell, as they’re going to need all the young talent they can get in the post-Butler era.

Morten Stig Jensen: You mean outside of firing John Paxson and Gar Forman? None, because that should take precedent. I cannot emphasize this enough: With those two still in charge, no move matters seeing as it’s likely going to be the wrong one anyway. The word “incompetent” is often too harsh and wildly unfair, yet it’s a word frequently uttered in our busy everyday life in situations where it shouldn’t apply. However, in the case of Paxson and Forman, the word feels small, to the point of insignificance, as it does very little to actually quantify how bad they are at their jobs.    

Torkil Bang: Fire GarPax and waive Rondo. In that order. I know the first thing won’t happen, but when Butler’s personal trainer takes this shot at your GM you have to take a deep look at what’s happening in your club:

https://twitter.com/travellegaines/status/878078236780937218

You can say that Gaines should have kept his criticism inside, but the fact that he hasn’t retracted the tweet says to me, that this wasn’t written in the heat of the moment. It’s a sentiment that has been building up over the years and this was the time to let it out.

There are at least a couple of capable GM’s without jobs right now (Griffin and Hinkie).

After that, the Bulls should play a game of Trade, Keep or Drop? with their current roster. They might not actually have any keepers right now, so full tank mode should be an option.

James Holas: Probably jettison their front office personnel into the sun. If this isn’t possible, it’d behoove Jerry Reinsdorf to clear house of John Paxson and Gar Forman and bring in some fresh forward thinking execs, preferably someone who has cut his teeth working for a successful franchise. This ain’t working. Bulls fans deserve better.

 


BBALLBREAKDOWN Staff

Occasionally, we write together.

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