Timberwolves

D'Angelo Russell Is Minnesota's Lynchpin This Season

Photo Credit: David Berding (USA TODAY Sports)

Fans have had high expectations for D’Angelo Russell ever since he arrived in the Twin Cities. It comes with the territory. He was drafted No. 2 overall behind Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015, and the Minnesota Timberwolves traded Andrew Wiggins and both their picks in this year’s draft for him. Wiggins never drove winning the way the Wolves needed him to after they made him the first overall selection in 2014.

Russell and Wiggins share some unfortunate similarities. DLo has bounced around the league. He created drama with the Los Angeles Lakers and was among the Brooklyn Nets cast-offs before being dumped off to the Golden State Warriors in the Kevin Durant sign-and-trade.

The Timberwolves are the losingest franchise in sports. So why would he settle here in Minnesota?

Timing

The Wolves traded for Russell right before the pandemic shut down the season, limiting him to 14 games in Minnesota. Last year he was thrown into new lineups and situations under Ryan Saunders. It was always something new. He was an early sub off to match him up with the bench unit, or he received extended minutes to close it out. He was prioritized but limited in what he could do, making it difficult for him to play to his strengths.

This wasn’t the only thing keeping him from getting settled. DLo suffered a knee contusion that required surgery, limiting his minutes and causing him to miss games. However, after returning from surgery, he looked like his former self. He was more agile and played smoother.

Unfortunately, time ran out on him. The season was over as soon as he returned to form. He created a foundation to build off of, though. He showed increased ability off the ball as a shooter under Finch. This allowed Anthony Edwards to have the ball in his hands and gave us a look at the offensive flow this season. Although it felt like another chaotic season, one of many in his career, it gave us a lot to decipher about his game and fit with the team’s potential success.

Playstyle

DLo has one of the more creative and unique playstyles in today’s game. He relies upon his silky smooth left-handed shot from range to propel his game. Here is a look into his shot chart and where he ranks regarding his career percentages at those spots. The darker spots represent a higher percentage than league average, and the lighter spots are lower percentage than league average.

The right corner and top of the midrange are spots that he has made a living on. However, everything else is very average from three most likely due to his high frequency. Over his career, 43.7% of his shot attempts have come from 3-point range. Match that with his career 36% shooting from downtown, and you have a solid weapon from the perimeter.

DLo has also shown the ability to be a facilitator and set up his teammates. This past season he ranked in the 98th percentile in assist percentage, as he assisted on 32.4% of the Wolves made. His ability to be a shooter off-ball or on-ball and find others puts him in a vital position for the success of this offense.

What’s Gotta Go Right?

There’s a couple of obvious things here. DLo and his teammates have to stay healthy, make shots, space the floor, etc. If DLo has a good season and improves his defensive effort while developing a move he can use to drive to the basket, the Wolves can make a play-in push this year.

The defensive effort will be easier. Eliminating the drop scheme will help everyone do better, especially when teams look to abuse the poor defensive players on the court at any given time. Russell puts himself in good positions to stay with opposing players. It just comes down to the final effort: using his 6’9” wingspan to get a contest or in passing lanes.

The Wolves don’t need him to be a good defender. They need him to be in the correct position and contest shots.

Also worth noting: DLo has played in the NBA for seven years and has 15 career dunks. This says all you need to know about his bouncy ability off the dribble. He is a finesse player, and the majority of his buckets come from outside of the paint. Only 27.9% of his career shot attempts have come from within 10 feet of the basket. He is going to take what the game gives him because the majority of those are going to be uncontested looks.

He can bring back something we saw a lot in Brooklyn: His crafty finishing bag and floater game.

This threat makes defenders stay honest. Will he drive? Will he pass? What will happen if they run him off a screen and he has to be picked up? KAT’s post touches will not get double-teamed if the threat of another scorer is overwhelming them. And Ant can use his size and athleticism to get to the rim easier when defenders are stuck on DLo on the perimeter.

If he is effectively used as the driving force in the offense’s usage, Minnesota’s offense will be more effective and efficient.

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