When the Minnesota Timberwolves acquired Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls in the summer, their plan was for him to become the leader of the franchise and help them win.
The T-Wolves began the process of putting together a winning team over the last three years and managed to compile a roster featuring talented young players like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Last year, they hired an established coach in Tom Thibodeau to put the plan in motion but after missing out on the playoffs again, one more piece of the puzzle was missing; an experienced star.
This is where Butler came in and having worked with him in Chicago, Thibodeau identified him as the man to enable them to get over the hump and finally make that leap.
In the initial stages of the campaign, the 28-year-old struggled to assert himself and was trying to find his role on a team featuring skilled offensive players such as Wiggins and Towns.
He took a back seat to the young duo and was happy to find his offense however it came.
But as the season has gone on, the former Bulls man has slowly developed into the leader of the team and has returned to his best.
The month of December has been particularly good for Butler as he's been on a tear for Minnesota and his influence on them has been huge.
Over the past 22 games, the shooting guard is averaging 24.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.9 assists.
This season, according to basketball-reference.com, the Wolves outscore opponents by 6.9 points when he's is on the floor and are outscored by 10 points when he sits.
When he's out on the court, the Timberwolves look like a dangerous outfit that can contend with the best teams in the Western Conference and possibly make it past the first round of the playoffs. Without him, they barely look like a playoff-caliber team.
Coach Thibs is in no doubt about the impact the Marquette product has had on the organization in such a short space of time.
"I hope everyone is recognizing how special he is," Thibodeau said, according to John Meyer of Canishoopus.com. "He’s changed everything for us. Big play after big play. He guards everyone. Hustle plays. Big rebounds in traffic. Passes. Shots. Free throws. Everything."
Butler earned All-NBA nods when he was in Chicago but he's starting to elevate his level even further this year in Minneapolis as he's carried the team to multiple wins in recent weeks.
Thibodeau believes the biggest impact the star has made cannot be found on the box score.
“The thing that I really like about where he is is his leadership,” he said, per Jace Frederick of TwinCities.com. “I wasn’t around him daily for the past couple years prior to this year, but just seeing his growth (there). It’s not only what he’s done for himself to make him a lot better, but what he’s doing for his teammates.”
Thibs saw the three-time All-Star blossom into one of the best two-way players in the league during their time in the Windy City and is hoping he sets an example for the younger players.
“It’s what he does every day, how he prepares, how he practices, how he plays every play,” Thibodeau said. “He’s changed our culture.”
The veteran has always been an outspoken figure and hasn't been afraid to air his frustrations and call teammates out since he arrived in Minnesota either.
As an All-Defensive player, he prides himself on the work he does on that end of the floor but the same can't be said for many of his teammates and he's often let them know.
Butler sees honesty as a major sign of leadership and says players must learn to accept criticism in order to win and overcome losing habits.
“You can’t be scared of a little conflict and what somebody else may think of you on the floor, because you want to win, you want to play at an extremely high level,” Butler said before the season.
“Nobody likes losing, and we want to get out of that mentality as soon as possible here. If you can’t take a little constructive criticism … it’s a grown man’s league, so you’ve got to be all right with it.”
It's important to back up your words with actions and the Houston native has certainly done that this month with his performances doing the talking.
The Timberwolves currently sit fourth in the west with a 22-14 record and with their star player playing at this level, they will not only end the league's longest postseason drought, but be a serious threat.