If I was choosing a pickup basketball team and could pick any NBA player I wanted, there are a handful of players (at least) that I would probably choose before Timberwolves wing Jimmy Butler.
LeBron James is obvious. Steph Curry would be fun. Kevin Durant would be unfair.
But I say this with all sincerity, and I say this after one of the ugliest Wolves performances of the season Monday night: From a pure teammate standpoint, Butler would be the most amazing pickup basketball teammate imaginable.
First of all, Butler would play defense. Very few of us play meaningful, aggressive, possession-by-possession defense in pickup basketball. (My own hand is raised here as being guilty). And when you have hard defense played against you in pickup basketball, it is as shocking as it is frustrating.
Who is this guy? Why can’t he take it down a notch and give me some space? I just want to shoot a harmless 17-footer, and he won’t even let me have that without contesting it. Having that guy on your team is the greatest thing ever. Butler is that guy. He has no chill, and even if it was just a bunch of slow dads running on a Saturday morning he would D you up.
Second, Butler doesn’t have to shoot all the time to be effective. He would pass the ball. Even in pickup basketball, he would still get rebounds. Basically, I imagine Butler would play a pickup game the exact same way he plays an NBA game — unselfishly yet with great skill.
Curry would be bombing 35-footers. Tons of other NBA stars would show up and mess around, making everyone else feel like a clown. Butler would get everyone involved, and he would do it enthusiastically. And hey, if you needed him to go get a bucket? He’d go get a bucket.
Third, he would do everything in his power to win a pickup game. Did you see him Monday at Memphis? After willing Tom Thibodeau’s eight-man rotation to a victory Sunday and playing 40 minutes in the process, Butler flew to Memphis with the seven other guys who ended up also playing Monday, played another 40 minutes, and dropped another 30 points.
Karl-Anthony Towns looked tired and played tired. He scored seven points and tried six shots in 38 minutes. Butler was surely tired as well. But his fourth quarter expression was constant and said, “You guys go ahead and lose. I have no interest in that, so I’m at least going to try to win.”
In pickup ball, Butler would be the guy where when everyone is tired and one more game seems like a bad idea, Butler would insist you play one more — especially if he just lost the last one. And he would do everything he could to make sure everyone stayed interested. At the very least, he would stay interested.
And finally, Butler would the kind of pickup teammate who remembered every missed shot and certainly any game he lost. Any time he was your teammate in a regular game against guys he knew, there would be a good chance he would be seeking revenge for some transgression only he remembered from a game that might have happened years ago. That is a powerful force.
Maybe you think that player is a little too intense, but when he’s your teammate? There’s nothing better. Butler is the pickup basketball teammate we all deserve.