On Feb. 23, Minnesota Timberwolves star shooting guard Jimmy Butler hit the wood floor of Houston’s Toyota Center, gripping his right knee in obvious anguish.
Since the 31-win season of 2016-2017, the Timberwolves brought in Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford, Jeff Teague and (most notably and impactfully) Butler. It has since changed the Timberwolves in a massive way, leading to a 36-win season with 19 games to go and the team fighting for the third seed in the west.
Now the strong push to the playoffs the Timberwolves were mounting, seems to be built on a foundation of quickly slipping sand. The injury to Butler is a tear to the meniscus, which he has since received surgery on. While it could have been plenty worse, the injury still sidelines Butler for the next four to six weeks, putting his return at two weeks to go before the start of the playoffs, which is also the best case scenario.
The blow is painful because not only does the roster lose 22.2 points per game, but also their best defender. Now the Timberwolves guard that boasts a 23.66 player efficiency rating is sidelined and leaves a young team that struggles mightily on defense.
It is a stroke of poor luck that has an abused fan base in a state of shock and dismay. Here is why the Timberwolves will not only survive the injury, but why Timberwolves fans should still be all in on the Minnesota squad.
Why the Timberwolves will be fine
The glaring reason to still buy the Timberwolves stock is their other All-Star, Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns has been automatic double-double at 20.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per outing this season while making progress as a defender from the beginning of the year.
His combination of talent and versatility makes him the perfect candidate to step up and become the no. 1 option on the court. He is prolific enough on offense to run through him, while he can still play with bigger lineups like Nemanja Bjelica and Gibson is attributed back to his ability to stretch the floor with a 3-point shot.
Both Andrew Wiggins and Teague can either drive to the rack or shoot outside and spread the floor, both of which can play along with the style of Towns in the post because he can flip outside the deep line. The game against Chicago, following Butler’s injury, is the perfect snapshot of what this team should look like for the Timberwolves’ remaining 19 games.
The club now lives and dies on offense, which is accelerated when they spread the floor by shooting more threes along with running plenty of possessions through Towns.
Having Butler out hurts, especially because of the upper-level competition the Timberwolves will face. But the silver lining is the talent still on the roster, which should keep this team in the four/five seed range to finish out the season. Not bad after only 31 wins last year.
Photo: Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler (23) reacts to a knee injury on the court as Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul (3) and team trainers hover over him during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)