KAT: The Jimmy Butler Splits
Ever do a deep dive into NBA stats on basketball-reference.com? You could get lost in there for days.
Comparing modern stars to their legendary forebears, really bearing down on the similarity metrics to see which players your favorite ballers most closely emulate, embracing the minutiae of advanced stats: these are just a few of my favorite things. But I'm really partial to splits, where the stats are easily divisible: how does a player play at home vs. on the road? In wins vs. losses? In day games vs. night? Well Karl-Anthony Towns' page needs its own split: with and without Jimmy Butler as a teammate.
By now, the story is well-known, but after the Timberwolves were unsuccessful in accommodating Jimmy Butler's pre-season request for a trade, he showed up late to a practice and showed up his talented teammate, cursing out Towns and calling him soft, often at the top of his lungs. Though Towns did nothing to retaliate, the experience left him shaken and disturbed, and in a negative mindset that carried over to the regular season.
Following an outstanding year that saw Minnesota reach the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04, and Towns gaining league-wide recognition with his selection as 3rd-Team All-NBA, a sullen KAT sleep-walked out of the gates, unwilling or unable to give his best while sharing the court with Butler. A few short months after a full season of 21.3-12.3-2.4 (points-rebounds-assists per game), Towns could manage just 17.7-11.5-1.8. And after positively scorching the nets from behind the arc as a 42% shooter in 2017-8, his three-point prowess fell off precipitously, under 36% while playing with Butler.
Thankfully (?) for Towns, Butler's desire to sabotage his way off the team led to intermittent games where he would just sit out of his own accord, and in those games, Towns rose from the ashes like a phoenix, averaging 27.3-8.7-3. As news was breaking that Butler was about to be traded, he took the court in Timberwolf-navy-and-neon one final time November 9th, and Towns, sensing that this was perhaps the final time he would ever team with Butler, absolutely went off, dropping 39 points and 19 rebounds on an unsuspecting Kings team. Butler would be traded to Philly the following day.
But despite famously - and loudly - telling the team at practice that fateful day that '[they] CAN'T WIN WITHOUT ME' the Timberwolves have been far more successful since Butler took his show on the road. Mired at 4-9 before the Butler trade, Minnesota pulled even at .500 following their 39-point rout of the San Antonio Spurs, at 11-11. Towns has been predictably invigorated, averaging 21.7-13.1-2.7 in his Butler-free life. His overall shooting has jumped 10 percentage points from 43% to 53%, and his three point shooting is back to 40% as well.
When a dispirited Towns moped his way through the first ten games of the season, it was easy to suggest that his All-NBA recognition was in jeopardy [ed. note: hyperlink to OTTT Jokic All-NBA] but now that Butler is gone, the Big KAT of old has returned, and the future of Minnesota basketball is with him. Time will tell if the Jimmy Butler Splits will make an appearance in Philadelphia too.