We all knew that Jimmy Butler’s time with the Chicago Bulls was running out, and the Minnesota Timberwolves swooped in and stole him.
During Thursday’s NBA Draft, the Timberwolves and Bulls came together to make the most headline-worthy deal of the night. Butler got traded for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the rights to Lauri Markkanen, a seven-foot sharpshooter who got picked seventh overall. The Bulls got the rough end of this trade — by far.
Chicago is finalizing a deal to send Jimmy Butler to Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and No. 7 pick, league source says.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 22, 2017
In Butler, Chicago had a three-time All-Star who is one of the league’s premier two-way players. He’s coming off the best season of his career where he improved across the board: 23.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.9 steals. Thanks to his new-found versatility, Butler landed on his first All-NBA team, and he did all of this while being one of the league’s most talked about trade pieces. Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics were expected to deal for him around the trade deadline, but Ainge loves his assets too much to part with them despite Butler being enough to make Boston a legitimate threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Timberwolves are different, and they got Butler for 10 cents on the dollar. It’s incredible, and give credit to both parties. As terrible as the deal was, Chicago wants to get their rebuild started as quickly as possible. They now have three young players, but each of them comes with significant risk. LaVine was developing exceptionally well in his third year before his ACL tear, and that’s a scary injury because the 22-year-old’s athleticism is a huge part of his game. In the 47 contest he played, LaVine put up 18.9 points and 3.0 assists a night in 37.2 minutes. He did that with a true shooting percentage of 57.6 percent, and his ability to stretch the floor is something the Bulls desperately need.
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Chicago, as a team, finished 28th and 29th in three-point makes and attempts with 7.6 and 22.3, respectively. That worked out to a percentage of 34.0, which was 24th in the NBA. Anthony Morrow was their accuracy leader at 42.9 percent, but he seldom played after coming over from Oklahoma City — which is odd. In that deal, the Bulls sent off Doug McDermott, who was a key rotation player for them that nailed 37.6 percent of his looks from downtown.
The Bulls’ front office continues to be inept.
Fortunately, they added Markkanen in the package. In his one year at Arizona, the Finnish sniper connected on 42.3 percent of his triples and was a great shot-maker overall. However, he’s still a rookie. Chicago included an unproven player in the trade that got rid of a star. GarPax are risk-takers for sure. Markkanen has all the potential to be a great player offensively, but defense is a concern. In conference play this year, he tallied six more blocked shots that I did. I didn’t play in the Pac-12. I’m also 5-8.
Chicago built a defensive identity almost by default. It worked out for them. They became elite at stopping opponents, and I think GarPax wanted Kris Dunn to help shore them up on the perimeter after Butler’s departure. At Providence, he was an absolute stud. He led the Big East in steals per game as a junior (2.7) and a senior (2.5), and that was because of an ideal combination of length, athleticism and anticipation. Those skills translated quite well to the NBA, and Dunn averaged 2.1 steals per 36. However, he looked terrible in the team setting because the Timberwolves just weren’t good on that end.
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An interesting stat is the 1.5 defensive box plus/minus that Dunn posted. Advanced metrics get wonky, and the following is not a take, just facts. I repeat — the following is not a take, just facts. Kawhi Leonard had the same DPBM and Butler was at 1.1, according to Basketball-Reference. Kris Dunn isn’t a better defender than those guys, but I wouldn’t if he played like it in the Bulls’ system. Now, it’s going to be hard for Dunn to get consistent minutes because he had an awful rookie year on offense. In 78 games, Dunn shot 38.8 percent from the floor, 28.8 percent from three and 61.0 percent from the foul line. However, he bettered all of those clips after the All-Star Break: 40.4, 33.3 and 77.8.
Even when the shots weren’t falling, Dunn showed that he could create for others. During his 17.1 minutes, he dropped 2.4 dimes which work out to 5.1 per 36. He’s not Chris Paul, but at least he can contribute in other ways when something isn’t working.
As I said, the Bulls didn’t win this deal. Minnesota parted with three young players and got a borderline superstar in return. Additionally, two of those guys haven’t proved themselves as reliable NBA players, even though they have that potential. For Chicago to recoup the loss of Butler, LaVine is going to have to be an explosive scorer while Dunn will have to be a near All-NBA defender. Fortunately, both of them are in the position to do that. A couple of years, down the line, we may look at this trade in a new light. However, we’re not living in the future, and it’s impossible to say that this wasn’t a steal for the Timberwolves.
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