The Impact of Jimmy Butler on Game Quality

Since the week before training camp started, much has been made of the situation in Minnesota with regard to their best player, Jimmy Butler, and his demand to be traded. ESPN’s Rachel Nichols does a great job giving a recap of how the Timberwolves and Butler reached this boiling point. As it currently stands, Minnesota has been reluctant to trade Butler, and talks with the Miami Heat - his most likely landing spot during trade talks - reportedly fell through.

The NBA community appears to be divided on which side is in the wrong (e.g. Paul George and other players siding with Jimmy, while ex-coaches/GMS like Stan Van Gundy are on Thibodeau’s corner), but a significant amount of blame is being placed on President/GM and Coach Tom Thibodeau for how he has handled the situation. Before one puts the onus on Thibodeau, let’s remember Butler is arguably the most valuable player on the team when he’s on the floor - at least if you go by wins and losses last season. But let’s also consider the business impact of what Jimmy means to the Wolves.

Fansure, a sports analytics company that uses machine learning to measure the player-based impact of superstars on the quality of NBA games, has done an analysis on Butler’s impact to the quality of future Timberwolves games. According to the analysis, Butler’s absence would lead not only lead to harming the team’s chances of contending, but also a significant drop in the value of ticket prices.

We performed the analysis using the Fansure Index - a metric Fansure uses to assess the expected quality of a game. We forecasted the quality of T’Wolves games going forward - both with and without Jimmy Butler. Our analysis shows ticket prices versus our Index, along with the R-squared values of each team’s trajectory (i.e. how “accurate” our index is relative to the ticket prices for each respective team). Here’s what we found:

Fansure Index vs Price - including Butler.PNG

For comparison, we are providing data for other superstar players in the NBA. At first glance, one might question why Kevin Durant’s absence would only lead to a 1.4% decrease in prices - but we’ll get to that later (in short, the Warriors have a lot going for them other than KD). For now, we are painting a picture of Minnesota’s likely adverse impact in value (in this case, an 18% dip in ticket prices across the board) going forward without Butler. Considering Minnesota isn’t exactly a hotbed for pending free agents, this might be their reality for a while. All the more reason why Thibs and company are trying to make this work, no matter how much drama this saga has generated.

It’s understandable to side with a disgruntled player who is looking to use his leverage to go to a team he wants to play for. After all, star players carry tremendous value to their teams and fan bases - as our analysis shows. But because of that, it’s easy to see why Thibs and the T’Wolves front office is extremely reluctant to trade him - especially since the chances of receiving equal value in return are slim to none.

By the way, Fansure offers insurance to fans who want to make sure their favorite star player actually plays in the game they buy tickets for. For insurance on Jimmy Butler - or any player, for that matter - feel free to let us know! If your favorite player ends up not playing for whatever reason (injury, rest, trade, etc.), you can get up to 100% of your ticket cost reimbursed by us!