Taking A Look At Jimmy Butler's MVP Case

Jimmy Butler's recent performance has put him deep in the conversation for MVP.

When the trade to bring Jimmy Butler over the Timberwolves was finalized last summer, it opened up a world of questions for, not only the two teams involved but the NBA as a whole. It titled the landscape in the east by opening up another playoff spot, and it made things even tighter out west, as the Timberwolves looked to prove they were poised to finally make the playoffs.

It also opened up a lot of questions, specifically, about Jimmy Butler. A three-time all-star, coming off a career year in Chicago where he was awarded the third team All-NBA spot. Would his effectiveness and all-star worthy play show itself right away? How was this going to affect rising stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns? There’s even been talk all year on if he’s going to return to the all-star game.

Butler’s slow start to the season didn’t do much to secure the faith of Timberwolves fans that letting go of Zach Lavine was the best choice for the future. Jimmy was passive in the early going, deferring more to his star teammates and not getting to his spots in the midrange or being aggressive enough to get to the line; the two areas on offense where Jimmy Butler thrives. The offense, as a whole, seemed in shambles at this point since the entire team was still figuring it out. From veteran Wolves players like Gorgui Dieng, all the way to coach Thibodeau, who had some people calling for his firing early on.

Jimmy would still show up and dominate as we were used to from his Chicago days from time to time: he poured in 25 points in the first matchup against OKC after missing the previous two games for injury. In an early November game against playoff-hopeful New Orleans, he put up 23. And in a heartbreaking loss to the Suns that same month, he attributed 25. So the presence to still be the number one guy was lurking inside of Butler and waiting to break free. But by the end of November, the Wolves were 13-9 and didn’t appear to have any discernible identity.

Of course, we all know by now of Butler’s breakout month of December, averaging 26.5 points and 5.3 assists per game, leading the Timberwolves into the new year with a 23-10 record, which put them near the top of the West.

Since then, the Wolves have shown no signs of slowing down. They survived 7 games without Jeff Teague with a winning record, and have secured a tie for the third seed with San Antonio after winning 5 straight against New Orleans, Cleveland, OKC, the Knicks, and Portland. They are currently one of the best teams in the league and only appear to be getting better. All at the helm of Jimmy Butler, who is making his case for MVP.

Taking a look at the MVP tracker on basketball-reference.com, there are currently 9 other players that have a better probability of winning the MVP award over Butler. Demar DeRozan, Karl-Anthony Towns, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and James Harden.

DeRozan is having a wonderful season. He’s averaging 25 points on better efficiency than last season, watching him is something special to behold. And he’s led the Raptors to the second seed in the East, if things continue in this trend for him throughout the season, DeRozan is probably more of a threat to the MVP award than BBRef is giving him credit for right now, as he’s slotted with 1.6% probability that he will win MVP.

We all know KAT has had a great season so far, I’d even say he’s carrying more or about the same load on offense as Jimmy does, at least in January. But I don’t think he does enough for this team just yet on the offensive end, and the narrative of him being bad at defense is yet to be shaken, even though he’s played great defense as of late. Towns is going to be a perennial MVP one day, just not yet.

As for the rest of the pack, Butler is right there with them since the start of December. The most significant thing that sets them apart and stands out the most is the +/- score. Butler, right now, is sitting at +9.8. The next highest in this group is Durant with 6.1. And it’s important to point out that LeBron is actually at -1.4.

So while all of these guys are having great seasons, they either aren’t on par with what Jimmy has done or what they’re doing isn’t enough to secure wins for their teams. Sure, the other guys may have the complete stat line, but Jimmy has taken a team that was wallowing in mediocrity only 12 months ago, to a top 3 team in the West. All of this considering he’s not even in the top 25 of usage percentage in the league.

Due to his passiveness at the start of the season, it’s easy to see why Jimmy isn’t more favored to win the MVP. But if he can sustain the performances he had in December and so far in January, while keeping Minnesota afloat at the top of the West, it’s going to be extremely difficult to ignore his deserving of the award.

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