The Minnesota Timberwolves are having their best season in recent memory, currently sitting third in the Western Conference standings with a 38-26 record. A major reason for their resurgence has been the addition of Jimmy Butler, who they acquired from the Chicago Bulls during the NBA Draft. Butler has been averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.9 steals per game and has provided a veteran presence that the Timberwolves have been missing.
Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, Butler has undergone surgery to repair a meniscal tear in his right knee, sidelining him for the next 4-6 weeks according to Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports. With Butler possibly out until the playoffs start, the big question is whether or not the Timberwolves can survive until he comes back and not slip too much in the standings.
Jimmy Butler is expected to undergo surgery in coming days and could return within 4-to-6 weeks, league sources tell Yahoo. Final timetable will be set after procedure.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 25, 2018
The teams that are behind the Timberwolves are the Spurs (.5 games back), Pelicans (2 games back), Trail Blazers (2 games back), Thunder (2 games back), Nuggets (3 games back), and Clippers (4 games back). It is hard to see a scenario in which the Timberwolves don't make the playoffs, but it is conceivable that they slip to as far as the 8th seed. The gap between the 3rd and 8th spot is only 3 games, which means things are very tight.
The key to the Timberwolves' surviving Butler's injury is really for Andrew Wiggins and Jamal Crawford to step up at the wing positions. Jeff Teague is doing a good job running the point guard position and Karl-Anthony Towns is anchoring the post just fine. But, whether or not Wiggins and Crawford can make up for Butler's production out on the wing remains to be seen. Personally, I think they should be able to since both of them know how to score. Crawford can still get buckets even in this later stage of his career and Wiggins is emerging into an elite wing in his own right. Offensively those two guys should be able to pick up the slack.
As far as defense is concerned, that's probably the bigger concern. Wiggins is an elite wing on both ends of the floor, but the Timberwolves really don't have any one else who can replace Butler's tenacity on defense. The Timberwolves will really need to do a good job of playing team defense and finding ways to mask Butler's absence out on the wing. Jeff Teague will also need to play an expanded role defensively and be a little bit more aggressive when it comes to disrupting passing lanes and forcing turnovers.
The bottom line is the Timberwolves can survive without Jimmy Butler, but it's not going to be easy. When you are a team that hasn't been in this kind of position before, it's tough to then lose your best player right as you head into the final stretch of the season. It'll be interesting to see if they can hang onto their spot until Butler comes back and whether or not any of the teams behind them will be able to capitalize on their vulnerability.
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