Wolves' Promising Future Still Intact Despite Jimmy Butler's Meniscal Injury

Author: Nirwan Vibhor


The worst fears of Minnesota Timberwolves fans came to life when they saw Jimmy Butler take to ground at the Toyota Center in Houston this Friday. Something was not right - he was clutching his knee and hobbled to the locker room helped by two teammates to the locker room. Naturally, the fans were shattered seeing him limp off. How could they not?  

In Minnesota, fans have been conditioned to assume and embrace the worst. Whether, it was Gary Anderson missing an easy field goal, Brett Favre's ill-timed interception, Joe Smith signing an illegal contract, Kirby Puckett taking an early retirement, or the only Western Conference finals game ever for the Timberwolves, which they went on to lose to the LA Lakers: the fans always assume that whenever things seem to be on the right track, something will soon go wrong.

How Serious is Butler’s Injury?

That said, something extraordinary happened on Saturday. The fan favorite and the man behind the Timberwolves' impressive turnaround this season, had to get an MRI, and the test reports weren’t the worst. The fans feared that it will be an ACL injury, which would mean that Butler would be out of action for a year. Instead, reports confirmed that it was a meniscal injury, meaning that Butler would need a recovery time of possibly 3 to 6 months after surgery (meniscectomy.) Hopefully, the recovery time is short enough for Butler to get back into the squad for the playoffs.

This news came as a surprise blessing to the fans, who have been conditioned to expect things to go south especially when the team is on a roll. Having to lose Butler possibly for a couple of months at max is definitely a crisis averted for the fans. Now the question that remains is: can the Timberwolves qualify for the playoffs without Butler?

Before Friday, this was beyond doubt. The league tally is at 36-26 in favor of Timberwolves and definitely in line for a 4-seed spot in the Western Conference playoff games. This would mean that the team will end their longest playoff drought in the NBA ever. But without Butler?

The current situation in Western Conference is not good either. The Timberwolves are held between the 3-seed and the 4-seed spot and only have three games up on the 9-seed place. To make matters worse, the 10-seed Utah Jazz is steadily gaining. Therefore, this season may have looked positive for the Timberwolves at the beginning, earning a playoff draw will be an uphill task.

This season, Butler is indispensable to the Wolves, just like Oklahoma City Thunder can’t do without Russell Westbrook or Boston Celtics without Kyrie Irving. Even the stats back Butler’s place in the gameplans for Timberwolves. In NBA, he ranks 6th in terms of win shares and 18th in player efficiency. In addition, Butler tops his teammates in shot attempts, points, steals, and game minutes. Some might say that he has single-handedly engineered a complete culture shift within the team this season.

Can Andrew Wiggins Step Up?

And now that Butler is out, who can be the playmaker for the Wolves… Andrew Wiggins? Well, that’s right. Although Wiggins has been a talented, yet erratic performer for the Wolves this season, he could be the alpha dog to this illustrious team. Karl-Anthony Towns may get more game time now, however, much of the Wolves' chances to make it to the playoffs rest on Wiggins’ shoulders.

Wrapping Up

As an NBA fan living in Minnesota, it is natural to be pleasantly surprised seeing that Butler's injury is just a meniscus tear. When fans watched him go down on the floor, they naturally assumed an ACL tear or worse. It’s all part of Minnesota’s fatalism. However, it still remains to be seen if Wolves get a chance to host a playoff draw at-home. Will Butler's injury extends the longest playoff drought for the Wolves in the NBA by one more season, we’ll soon find out.

(All photographs are courtesy of the original owners unless otherwise indicated)



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