Jimmy Butler was lightly-recruited out of high school, then spent a season at tiny Tyler Junior College, after which he was ranked the 127th-best junior college prospect of 2008. Marquette assistant Buzz Williams was in Texas to see one of Jimmy’s teammates, and happened to notice him; eventually, he landed in Milwaukee, where he worked his way up from 19 minutes per game in a reserve role to all-Big East honorable mention his senior season. Then, he was the final pick of the first round in the 2011 Draft. The rest, you probably know: he worked his way up, again, from a seldom-used reserve to a rotation piece to a key cog to the All-NBA team.
Jamal Crawford was the 46th-rated prospect in the high school class of 1999, ahead of the likes of Caron Butler, Steve Blake and Gilbert Arenas. He was recruited heavily and committed to Michigan, where he was suspended twice, once for accepting payments that affected his amateur status and once for trying to declare for the draft after he’d signed his letter of intent. He was selected 8th overall and was a rotation player from the get-go; in 2004, he’s signed several lucrative contracts throughout his career. The rest, you probably know: he bounced around as a vexing lead guard before finding his niche as a dynamite bench scorer.
Butler’s got skill and finesse, but he ultimately wants to bludgeon you with his thick, jacked frame. In Monday’s victory over the Blazers, he scored 37 points on 12/21 shooting, including 5-for-5 shooting on clutch 4th-quarter free throw attempts he earned the hard way; by throwing himself at the rim with reckless abandon. On the other side of the ball, he battled, he boxed out, he hustled back to make defensive plays in transition, and he stole the ball three times. His reckless abandon with make any fan hold their breath, but that hustle helps put his team over the top, and provides an edge this team lacked before.
Crawford’s got skill and finesse, and he ultimately wants to dazzle you with it; sick handles, backbreaking jumpers, a flair for the dramatic. He dropped 23 points on the Blazers’ heads, in 23 minutes, including 16 in the final frame on 7-of-10 shooting. He tiptoed around screens, leaning with ball ever so precisely, feeling out the defense, finding seams, attacking open spaces so he could levitate into his jump shot, his feet twitching in rhythm with his release, his long arms and thin torso hovering there as the ball arced toward the rim. His decision-making will drive any fan insane, but when he’s on, my God, it’s a sight to behold. And the man was flamethrowing tonight.
What an odd couple; and yet, how fortunate Wolves fans are that they’re here. The principal members of Minnesota’s roster who carried over from previous seasons were M.I.A. as the game roared down the stretch. Karl-Anthony Towns spent the fourth committing bad fouls and turnovers; Andrew Wiggins spent a good chunk of it on the bench. And while there are implications to unpack, and perhaps lingering doubts to address (Why is Towns so unreliable in clutch? Will Wiggins ever remember how to shoot again?) we can save those for another time. At least, I will. That was fun. Jimmy and Jamal made it fun. Minnesota’s 18-13 and back on track.
A few other odds and ends from this one:
-This recap could’ve (probably should’ve) gone very differently: Damian Lillard got hacked on his drive with 10 seconds to go, and got no whistle. Dave Benz and Jim Petersen rightly called it out. But, alas, that’s the way things go. The Wolves will be on the receiving end of it at some point. Dame himself had this to say after the game:
Damian Lillard was NOT happy with the officials tonight. pic.twitter.com/VaHdHoSmYk
— Sam Ekstrom (@SamEkstrom) December 19, 2017
-The Blazers took five free throws in the entire game. Five. FIVE. That’s absurd.
-I know I hinted at Butler’s line above, but the full thing is worth spelling out: 37 points on 12/21 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 0 turnovers, all in 35 minutes while dealing with back spasms.
-Wiggins: 4-of-14 from the field. Did a whole lot of settling for midrange jumpers. His past 8 games: 14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 35% FGs, 18% 3PTs, 59% FTs.
-The Wolves nearly lost the game when they allowed the Blazers to end the third on a 15-4 run, punctuated by 2 turnovers, 2 Gorgui misses, 2 Wiggins misses, and 2 Wiggins bricked field goals.
-Why is Evan Turner? Just, like, in general. Why?
–LEBRON JAMES WAS RIGHT – Shabazz Napier, who scored 15 off the bench, is awesome. I am basing this argument off of this game, and this game alone.
-The other Shabazz in the building, Shabazz Muhammad, was a healthy scratch for the 6th time in 7 games. For the third straight game, it was Marcus Georges-Hunt getting playing time instead. Even though Hunt registered no statistics other than 3 personal fouls in his 7 minutes, I hope he continues to get a look. We know what Bazz is; Hunt is still a bit of a mystery.
-Shoutout to Scott Foster for orchestrating the most tedious late-game jump-ball in NBA history. First, he held it forever. Then, he chastised both Towns and Nurkic for the way they were standing. Then, when he finally was ready, he biffed the toss. It was Joey Crawford-esque.
-The Wolves take on the Nuggets on Wednesday night. Should be a fun one, and a good test against another up-and-coming division opponent.