The 2017 NBA Draft was a critical day for the outlook of the Chicago Bulls franchise. When the Bulls front office brass decided the time was right to trade away their one and only cornerstone piece in Jimmy Butler, it was imperative that they receive a king’s ransom in return in the form of young players and picks. But after reaching an agreement to send Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the seventh overall pick (which was used to select Lauri Markkanen), the prevailing belief was that said return was not nearly enough. With that came heavy criticism directed at the Bulls front office, while the Timberwolves meanwhile were presumed to have snagged a legitimate superstar at a discount.
Three months into the 2017-18 NBA season, the deal still looks just as good for Minnesota. Butler has been as advertised, being reunited with ex-Bulls and current Timberwolves Head Coach Tom Thibodeau, which has helped create a smooth transition for Butler to his new team. Where the deal has changed, however, has been on the Bulls side of the equation. The return looks far better now based on what Dunn and Markkanen have shown to this point in the season, while LaVine – who was considered the centerpiece coming back to Chicago – hasn’t even made his debut in the Windy City. When LaVine returns from the knee ailment that has held him out for the entirety of the campaign to date, the swap will look even better for the Bulls.
Jimmy Butler Trade Has Been a Win for Everyone
It’s not often that a trade in today’s NBA ends up benefitting all teams and players involved, but the early returns on the Butler trade indicate that such has been the case. Here is an in-depth look at each of the pieces involved and how they have transitioned to their new settings.
Surprise Breakout of Kris Dunn
The key piece that has made the deal much more favorable from the Bulls perspective is the emergence of Dunn in his second year in the NBA. After failing to live up to the hype as the fifth overall pick in 2016, it was likely that Dunn would have once again rotted on the bench this season had he stayed in Minnesota. Dunn would have started the year third on the point guard depth chart, competing for floor time with Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones who both appeared to be higher on Thibodeau’s pecking order. But Dunn has put his forgettable rookie season behind him, and has bounced back in a major way with Chicago.
Lacking a marquee starting point guard on the roster, the opening was more-less Dunn’s to grab, and he’s done just that. Despite missing the first four games of the season with a dislocated finger, it didn’t take long for Dunn to wrestle the first unit point guard duties away from Jerian Grant. The Bulls knew what they were getting with Dunn’s stingy perimeter defense, but the offensive side of his game has also begun to come around. In 27 games this season, Dunn is averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per contest while shooting 45% from the field and 36% from three.
Clearly, the change of scenery was all that was needed for the talent Dunn displayed over three years at Providence to begin showing itself at the NBA level. Dunn is now in a great position to grow with the Bulls young core, generate more chemistry and rhythm as the team’s primary ball handler, and continue to polish his individual offensive game.
Lauri Markkanen’s Smooth Transition to the NBA
Markkanen was forced into a larger role than anticipated right out the gate when the Bulls other two power forwards took each other out in an altercation days before the start of the regular season. Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic came to blows after tensions boiled over at practice, resulting in a facial fracture for Mirotic and a team-imposed eight-game suspension for Portis. Markkanen took the opportunity and ran with it, proving that he didn’t need much of a transition period coming out of college.
Portis and Mirotic are now both back in the lineup, but Markkanen has maintained his role in the Bulls offence. Showing frequent signs of his sky-high potential, the 7’0” big man out of Finland has impressed with his ability to quickly adapt to the pro game, averaging 14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds on the campaign. If not for the above average rookie class including the likes of Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell tearing up the NBA this season, Markkanen surely would be right in the thick of the Rookie of the Year discussion.
Return Looming for Zach LaVine
LaVine is expecting to make his debut early in the new year, and given that he was generally considered to be the biggest piece heading to Chicago in the trade, his return should offer the Bulls a sizable boost. When he does, it will be a fantastic opportunity for LaVine to take on a bigger role, and become more of an offensive focal point as a scorer than he was in Minnesota. For now, LaVine is hoping to go through six full contact practices to get back in game shape and up to speed with the offence before making his return to the lineup.
But while he’s been sidelined from throwing down monster dunks in games, he’s been using his time to give out a new puppy to this girl who recently lost her dog. Given his highlight-reel ability on the court and personality off it, LaVine is sure to be a fan favorite once he hits the floor in Chicago.
Jimmy Butler the Missing Piece for Young ‘Wolves
The Timberwolves had been expected to break out for quite some time, and for good reason. With an exciting core group featuring a pair of number one overall picks in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, all the Timberwolves needed to take off was someone to lead the charge.
Butler has provided that leadership and guidance for the Timberwolves talented, albeit inexperienced young core, and the results have been apparent in the team’s record. Following a 31-51 season placing them 13th in the Western Conference a season ago, Minnesota currently sit in 4th in the West at 19-13 thus far in 2017-18.
Butler has been the key reason for the turnaround. It took him some time to find his role with the ‘Wolves, but the 28-year-old Marquette product has found the hot hand over the past month, averaging 24.0 points, 5.2 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game over that span. He proved his worth in Chicago, and Butler’s contributions to all aspects of the game are once again showing why he is among the NBA’s most underrated superstars.
He might not be the flashiest player in the association, nor is he the most physically gifted compared to other elite players across the league. But he more than makes up for it with his intensity, leadership, and basketball IQ. With a prior relationship with Thibodeau, Butler has continued to make great strides both scoring and distributing at an elite level with the ball in his hands, while maintaining the same commitment and effort on the defensive end that allowed him to break into the league with the Bulls as a late first round pick in 2011.
Butler has worked the pick-and-roll game to perfection with both Towns and former Bulls teammate Taj Gibson, and has also been entrusted with taking big shots in crunch time. Butler has been the perfect fit taking on a leadership role with the Timberwolves both on and off the court, and will continue to be counted on in clutch spots down the stretch later in the season and in the playoffs.
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