Minnesota Timberwolves Just Became Second-Best In Western Conference

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers’ reported trade most notably involving Jimmy Butler for Dario Saric and Robert Covington will put the new-look Wolves in the Western Conference Finals this season. Never mind their record now, this was a dysfunctional team from the start. Yes, I know the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz are still in the conference, but neither team has what the Wolves do now.

As good as Butler was for the Timberwolves, he’s being replaced by two players from a winning team, who are younger, and are more team-oriented. While fans will bring up his production, those are more about the name on the back of the jersey than what’s on the front. Adding Saric and Covington will give the Wolves an element they’ve been missing.

Butler averaged 21.3 points per game for the Wolves this season and while that will be missed, but it won’t take long for the new additions to make fans forget.

Covington is not the same prolific scorer that Butler is. Playing alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid forced Covington to become a role player. However, Covington is a great defender (as he was First Team All-NBA last year) and if given the open looks, he can contribute. When focused, he can take a defender off the dribble and is more than capable of knocking down three-point shots (he’s shooting .390).

The other piece to this trade may be the most important. The Sixers parting with Dario Saric was a punch in the gut for all Philly fans. While Saric is not a household name, in Philly he was known as the “homie.” That’s a term of endearment given to players who have a special place in fans’ hearts.

The Minnesota Timberwolves will enjoy his hustle, three-point shooting, and gritty play. While Taj Gibson is penciled in as the starter, he’s gone on record stating he will not mind coming off the bench for the good of the team.

Losing Butler is not the end of the world for Minnesota. Actually, it’s the start of something great.

Butler’s absence will lead to better ball movement, which will result in wins, and not just enough to make the playoffs, but the type of wins that will leapfrog them ahead of the Houston Rockets. The reason for that is, to beat the Rockets, you must have a team-first style of play.

With Jeff Teague sacrificing stats to help Butler’s, he will no longer be asked to do so. This will open up more lanes he needs to create and distribute, whereas with Butler on the floor, Teague’s playmaking potential was marginalized. With Saric and Covington on the floor, Karl- Anthony Towns will not have the lane as clogged as it was with Butler. Saric and Covington will provide better spacing for Derrick Rose and Towns to work one-on-one against their defenders thanks to the perimeter play of the two new additions.

But the main player this trade helps is Andrew Wiggins.

This season, Wiggins is averaging 17.0 points per game while hitting .416 percent of his shots. While his numbers have stayed even-keel with his average from 2017-18 (17.7), it’s also worth noting, that before Butler arrived, Wiggins was averaging 23.6 points per game in 2016-17. Coincidence? I think not.

The arrival of Butler set off a chain reaction of events that led the team to their first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season. Great for them, but did it come at a cost?

With Butler gone, expect Wiggins to create more. Not even the addition of Saric and Covington will take away from what Wiggins can do. If anything, their presence will help him return to the scorer he once was. Butler was at his best with the ball in his hands creating shots, and Covington and Saric are not known to be ball hogs. With their perimeter play and defensive approach, they will open lanes for Wiggins to penetrate or occasionally kick out to spot-up shooters.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were struggling defensively even with Butler on the floor. However, what fans must realize is that they’re getting two defensive players to offset the production of one. Covington is a great wing defender and Saric is a good low-post defender.

This new group will have what it takes to put the clamps on James Harden, Donovan Mitchell or Russell Westbrook. The same goes for LeBron James and the Lakers.

To come out victorious in the West, you must work as a team. This is what has hindered the Minnesota Timberwolves since the arrival of Butler. The Wolves can get past the Rockets if they were to face them in the playoffs. Harden is their primary threat along with Chris Paul, but who says Paul will be healthy? The Rockets simply are not able to match the Wolves in the paint, nor can they now contend with their perimeter game.

All roads still go through the Golden State Warriors, though, but in one day, the Wolves have equipped themselves to have a fighting chance.

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