Although they’re extremely different people, Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler and head coach Tom Thibodeau have one thing in common: they appreciate hard-nosed, gritty, old-school play on the basketball court.
Making his living as one of the best two-way players in the NBA, Butler put in an immense amount of work to become a household name and it was under Thibodeau with the Chicago Bulls that he emerged into an All-Star and a leader.
Therefore, when Thibodeau and the T-Wolves traded for Butler last offseason, they knew who they were getting.
Not only did Butler immediately make the team much more dangerous, but he's also had no issue speaking up and calling out his teammates at times.
All season long, Butler has spoken out, not only to the media, but also right to his teammates' faces during practices and games. Since Karl-Anthony Towns is still young and Andrew Wiggins has a quiet personality, Butler instantly took over the reigns as the team’s leader.
On Monday, the T-Wolves took down the Memphis Grizzlies by the score of 113-94, but got off to a slow start. When asked about it on Tuesday, Butler sounded off with a recent theme that he’s been harping on.
"We were just playing soft," Butler said. "We tend to do that from time to time. Whenever we play hard good things happen, which is what a lot of people have been preaching around here lately. I just think everybody, no matter the talent level, you go out there and compete, you do your job, but [over] all else you just play harder than everybody.”
This is the second time in the last week that he called his teammates’ effort “soft”.
"I don't care what the reason may be," Butler added. "I want to play a full 48-minute game. I don't think we've yet to do that this year. I want guys to come out, defend, know the coverages that we're in, and even if you mess up, just play hard and get in the way, something good will happen out of that, I promise. Right now we have to play harder than anybody on every possession for what's at stake. I think we lose control of that at times and it's really frustrating to a lot of guys that are in this locker room, but we got to play harder. Every single possession from the jump to finish.”
Although Minnesota is an above-average offensive team, they’ve struggled defensively all season long. On an individual level, both Towns and Wiggins have struggled mightily. Towns ranks 23rd among starting centers in defensive rating while Wiggins grades out as one of the worst on-ball defenders in the league across a variety of metrics.
Butler believes that playing defense is all about effort.
"I just want everybody to play hard," Butler explained. "I think if I can do it, everybody can do it. Just showing you when you play hard, you get a bucket, set [up] somebody else, get a stop -- to me that's fun. I love playing defense. I love getting stops. I love yelling, exerting my energy on every single play. I want to instill that in everybody else in that locker room."
The Timberwolves will control their own destiny when they square off against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night. The winner of the game will make the playoffs and the loser won’t.
It remains to be seen if Butler’s words will inspire his teammates to play stout defense or if they’ll continue to struggle on that end of the floor.
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