Photo: Michael Wyke (AP)

Jimmy Butler—the Timberwolves’ leading scorer and best player, and the NBA’s leader in minutes per game prior to the All-Star break—went down in a crumpled heap in the third quarter of Minnesota’s Friday night loss to the Houston Rockets. It looked like a non-contact injury, and Butler had to be helped off the floor:

The Wolves are going to be in trouble if Butler misses a bunch of time. Their net rating plummets from plus-7.8 when he plays to minus-8.7 when he sits, by far the biggest on/off plunge for any Minnesota player. Butler nightly takes on the toughest perimeter defensive assignment; even with him leading the team in minutes the Wolves still only manage the 26th-ranked defense by defensive rating; when he sits, their defensive rating goes from a perfectly respectable 105 points per 100 possessions to a truly stomach-churning 116, a number that is more than five points worse than the Phoenix Suns’ league-worst defense. Butler is on exactly no one’s radar as an MVP candidate, but we will learn in a hurry just how vital his bulldog perimeter defense has been in keeping the Wolves anywhere near the realm of respectability on that end.

The earliest signs are as positive as they can be, given the circumstances:


Butler sat out the All-Star game to rest up after a demanding first half. It wouldn’t exactly be fair to lay this injury at the feet of Tom Thibodeau, but it’s worth noting, once again, his history of wearing down his high-use players. It was for sure the first thing that leapt into my mind when Butler sagged to the floor Friday night: oh shit, not again.

Butler is reportedly scheduled to undergo an MRI Saturday. The Wolves are currently fourth in the Western Conference, a game up on the fifth-seed Oklahoma City Thunder but just three games up on the ninth-seed Los Angeles Clippers. Fingers crossed, Wolves fans.