As the go-to scorer on the Chicago Bulls last season, Jimmy Butler averaged career-highs in points (23.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (5.5) in 37.0 minutes over 76 regular-season games.
Taking a team-high 16.5 field goal attempts per game, which was also a career-high, Butler showed off a refined offensive skill set, scoring from everywhere including beyond the three-point line where he shot 36.7 percent, to the paint and everywhere in between.
When he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves on the day of the 2017 NBA Draft, it became obvious that Butler’s role was going to change. After all, he went from playing with veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo as his co-stars to budding stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, among others.
Minnesota is off to a solid start at 7-4 and Butler’s worth to the team has been obvious. In both of the games he missed due to a minor injury, the team suffered lopsided losses, first falling to the Indiana Pacers by 23 and then the Detroit Pistons by 21 the following night.
But, especially lately, Butler hasn’t been showing up in the scoring column by his standards. Putting up 14.7 points per game so far, the 6’8”, 236-pounder has averaged just 9.3 points over his last three contests and has attempted just 8.3 shots from the field with a total of five free throws in the process.
While it hasn’t particularly hurt the team (they went 2-1 in that span), Minnesota would certainly benefit from his production in that regard.
When asked if he’s going to make more of an effort to score in the future, Butler made it clear that he will be more aggressive.
"I'm going back to putting the ball in the basket,” he told Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune on Friday. “I like to put the ball in the basket. I think I've gotten really good at it over the years, so we'll see a different player from here on out."
When asked if the team’s 125-101 defeat to the Warriors on Wednesday had an effect on that mentality, Butler said, "A lot of different things go into it. Whatever the reasons are, much more scoring, much more aggressiveness on the offensive end.”
Although Butler’s scoring numbers have dipped, he has averaged 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 steals per game for the T-Wolves. He is also consistently tasked with defending the opposing team’s best offensive wing player, which is certainly important.
Butler agreed that he has made an impact so far, but he’s simply been far too passive on offense.
"Leadership isn't about scoring points, to tell you the truth," Butler noted. "But I do think I have to start scoring the ball a lot more. I think I've come too far to be as passive as I am right now. I'm always going to pass the ball to the open man, but if I feel like I can get my shots off and think I can make it, I'm going to take each and every one of those.”
Head coach Tom Thibodeau echoed Butler’s sentiment and believes that his star player will return to his elite scoring days in the near future.
On Friday, Thibodeau said, "Jimmy will figure it out. Right now, he's doing a lot of things. He has had a huge impact on us in terms of winning, but he can have even more of an impact as he continues to be more aggressive, too.”
Although Towns is leading the team by averaging 21.3 points per game and Wiggins has chipped in with 19.6 points per contest so far, Butler will be counted on heavily to be a consistent scorer throughout the season for Minnesota, particularly when going up against teams with seemingly unlimited offensive firepower like the Warriors (who they were dominated by) and the Houston Rockets, who are presumed to be at the top of the Western Conference all season long.
While the focus on lockdown defense was once a major emphasis for teams, offense, and in particular perimeter shooting, has become a major focus in the evolution of the game. Therefore, Butler will need to figure out where and when to expend his energy.