The Timberwolves’ startling summertime acquisition, Jimmy Butler, is third on his team in scoring and rebounding, second in assists and steals, sixth in three-pointers made and last in blocked shots with 10 games gone in this young season.
His team also is tied for second with defending NBA champion Golden State in the Western Conference with a 7-3 record.
There is no definitive statistic that measures the resolve or toughness of a three-time All Star who plays for his teammates and sacrifices for the common good, other than a thing called the NBA standings.
“Like I said my whole career, as long as we’re winning I don’t give a damn what my stats are,” Butler said. “I think winning makes everybody happy.”
And these are thus far noticeably happy times, particularly for a formerly forlorn franchise that hadn’t constructed a winning streak as long as its current five-gamer since January 2009. If they beat the Warriors on Wednesday in Oakland, a six-game streak will be their longest since Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell played together in 2004.
But Butler reminds that it’s still early.
“Everybody’s smiling, everybody is having fun and if we continue to do that, we’re going to be a really good team, don’t get me wrong,” Butler said. “But there are a lot of things we have to fix in order for us to go where we talk about going, where we see ourselves at the end of this thing. We have to be a lot better.”
Last season, Butler averaged 23.9 points a game and was named All-NBA third team for a Chicago Bulls team that needed him to score. Now, he is averaging 15.1 points during a season in which he is helping youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins as well as veterans such as Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson get theirs.
When he was really needed, Butler scored nine points in his team’s deciding 11-3 run late in an Oct. 27 victory over Oklahoma City at Target Center.
“That’s who Jimmy is. Jimmy has always been that way,” said Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who also coached Butler for four seasons with the Bulls. “If we need him to score, he’ll score. If we need him to be a playmaker, he’ll do that. What he’s showing people is you put the team first. That’s the most important thing. You never hear Jimmy talk about, ‘I didn’t get my shots’ or ‘I need more minutes.’
“He wants to win. That’s what Jimmy wants, and if we’re going to win, you put the team first.”
Butler vows he doesn’t care just who does what, as long as the Wolves win. They are 7-1 in games he has played.
“However that happens,” he said. “If somebody scores 30, great. If they score 50, even better. If you can score more than Kobe’s 81, do that, too. But we just want to win at all costs.”
Well, every man has his limits. Or in this case, his sense of humor, too.
He was asked if he entered this season convinced getting everyone else involved first would be the best path to winning.
“I feel like right now it is,” Butler said. “If Wigs is open, I’m going to throw him the ball. If KAT is open, I’m going to throw him the ball. If Taj is open, I’m going to try to look him off and throw it to KAT or Wigs.”
Oh, snap …
“You take him too serious, you take him way too serious,” said Gibson, who played four seasons with Butler in Chicago. “He has been passing me the ball for years, man. I’m the one who has known him the longest on the team. I’ve seen him grow over the years. We went through all the battles through the years. He’s a jokester. You can’t take Jimmy too seriously. He’ll tell you that.”
On the verge
Thibodeau likes to say each game reveals and tells each player what he must do. He predicts Butler’s time to assert himself with his scoring will come. New teammate Teague predicts a big night is “probably coming soon.”
Wednesday’s game might be as good a time as any.
“He might be overdoing it, but he’s trying to get everyone else going,” Thibodeau said. “And then he’ll take care of what he has to take care of at the end of the game. That’s the great value of having a guy like that. He’s not going to force things. He’s going to make plays. You can put him on anybody; he can guard five positions. The playmaking and making the right plays is the most important thing.
“And for Jimmy, winning is the most important thing. He doesn’t get wrapped up in stats.”
Butler calls himself wrapped up in winning and dismisses the notion that he sacrifices anything to do so.
“I’m not giving up anything,” he said. “As long as win, I’m happy. That’s what they brought me here for, to help this organization win. I feel like I’m doing a great job with that … I don’t care what anybody says about how I’m playing. I really don’t. We’re winning, so at the end of the day I’m a winner. If we’re winning, I’m good.”