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Jimmy Butler sacrifices points for Timberwolves' wins

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler (23) smiles during a free throw in the second half against the Dallas Mavericks at Target Center over the weekend. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—The box score suggested Jimmy Butler was largely ineffective in the Timberwolves' 112-99 victory over Dallas on Saturday. Butler, a three-time all-star and All-NBA wing, scored four points. And coach Tom Thibodeau loved it.

"Jimmy played a great game," Thibodeau said.

While points are the primary indicator casual observers use to decide who's good at basketball and who isn't, Butler is proof that there are many more things a player can do for his team.

In eight games, Butler is averaging 15.1 points, a significant drop from the 21.7 he averaged over the previous three seasons. His shooting percentages, assists, rebounds, steals and blocks are all down, too. He couldn't care less.

The only numbers that really matters are these: the Wolves are 7-1 with Butler on the court, 0-2 without him. The Wolves enter Wednesday's late tip-off at Golden State on their first five-game winning streak since 2009, so Butler is smiling.

"My plan is to win. That's all I ever want to do," he said. "I don't care if I'm scoring, passing, if I'm just a defender, if I don't shoot any shots or whether I shoot 100. ... As long as we win, I'm cool, I'm happy.

"I don't care what anybody says about how I'm playing, I really don't. We're winning. So, at the end of the day, I'm a winner. We're winning, we're good."

When Butler came to Minnesota in a draft-night trade in June, the thought was he would instantly become the No. 1 offensive option. That hasn't happened. He is averaging just 12 shots a game, nearly four shots fewer on average than Andrew Wiggins and nearly three fewer than Karl-Anthony Towns.

Rather than coming in guns blazing, Butler has deferred to others, preferring to get his new teammates involved in the offense.

"I think he knows that Andrew and Karl are really aggressive to score, and I think he picks and chooses spots really well," point guard Jeff Teague said. "I think being around the league and being around great players for a while, he's figured out how to pick his spots.

"Sometimes we need Jimmy to take over, and some games KAT and Wigg might have it going and he'll defer to them."

As of now, Butler sees the latter as the best path to Wolves' victories.

"If Wiggs is rolling, if Wiggs is open, I'm going to throw him the ball," Butler said. "KAT's open, I'm going to throw him the ball."

What if Taj Gibson — Butler's long-time teammate and friend — is open?

"I'm going to try to look him off and throw it to KAT or Wiggs," Butler joked. "No, but I think that's just the right way to play, man, and we've got so many guys that can put the ball in the basket that we've got to have some guys to give it to them."

At season's onset, many wondered if there would be enough shots to go around. Butler has proven to be a one-man solution to that potential problem.

"I think he's showing people you sacrifice for the team; you put the team first," Thibodeau said. "That's the most important. You never hear Jimmy talking about, 'I didn't get my shots. I want more minutes.' He wants to win. That's what Jimmy wants. And if we're going to win, everyone is going to have to sacrifice. And that's what it's all about — no personal dilemmas, put the team first."

Every player says that; Butler lives it.

"I always say the actions reflect one's priorities. It's not the words," Thibodeau said. "Often times, you hear people say things and they never do the things they say. But when you watch what they're doing, it tells you what's important to them. So, Jimmy has always played that way. If you went back and watched him play in college (at Marquette), he played that way in college. ... That's the great value in him. He's an all-around player, he can beat you in a lot of different ways, he's willing to sacrifice and put the team first."

Butler's 15 points, five rebounds and four assists a game might not get him into the all-star game this winter, much less put him into the NBA MVP mix, but that doesn't seem to matter to Butler. Besides, those numbers might change. If the Wolves are going to contend for a top seed in the Western Conference and compete with teams like Golden State, there will be nights Butler has to score — a lot.

"As time goes on, you'll see his aggressiveness come to scoring, as well," Thibodeau said. "I think he might be overdoing it (with the distributing), but he's trying to get everyone else going and he'll take care of what he has to take care of at the end of the game."

Like he did in the Wolves' home win against Oklahoma City on Oct. 27, the victory that started this winning streak. Butler poured in 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter of Minnesota's 119-116 victory. Butler can still put the ball in the bucket. Don't worry about that.

"I think he's just doing whatever the defense gives us," Teague said. "But, yeah, he's Jimmy, he's going to go for another big night, and it's probably coming soon."

WHEN LESS IS MORE >

JIMMY BUTLER'S OFFENSE

Season Avg. Shots Usage%

2014-15 20.0 14.0 21.6

2015-16 20.9 15.4 24.4

2016-17 23.9 16.5 26.5

2017-18 15.1 12.1 19.9

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