ESPN released their top 100 players list, and I expected them to continue to overlook the Minnesota Timberwolves, as they have in the past. Usually, the national media doesn’t give the Wolves their due, especially on these lists.
To be fair, it’s extremely hard to rank 100 players in an order anyone would agree with. The 200 people responsible for ESPN’s NBArank are courageous souls because I would never sign up for a job like that. It’s truly a lose-lose situation.
But you can only be fair to an extent. At some point, the list has to make some sense. If you have a player ranked 2 or 3 spots off of what it should be, that’s understandable. But you have to be within a reasonable distance from the correct rankings.
Once I saw three Timberwolves players ranked within the top 25, I hoped I could write on better terms with the list. I was surprised by Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards‘ rankings. Both rankings were fair, but it’s rare to see the media be fair to the Wolves. After seeing the top 25, I read the whole rankings. Safe to say, I did not expect to see a Timberwolves player in the top 10. But expectations aside, there sat D’Angelo Russell, 93rd overall.
Like any other Wolves fan, I was shocked. I can understand being low on Russell, but low is an understatement. You have to go down 11 more players until you find someone more impactful than Russell.
Looking through the list, I found about 15 players I’d take Russell over and a couple that are a toss-up. But just accounting for those 15 players, that moves DLo up to 78th overall, which seems fair to me. Players like Mike Conley, Aaron Gordon, Anfernee Simons, Christian Wood, and Buddy Hield are not better than Russell, nor are they more valuable to their team.
ESPN ranked Caris LeVert 80th, and he had a comparable season to Russell. Levert averaged 17 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds, while Russell averaged 18 points, 7 assists, and 3 rebounds on slightly better shooting stats. Even though Russell had the better season, LeVert still ends up higher. Why?
“Russell averaged a career high in assists last season but still needs to prove he can be the lead guard in an offense including Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Edwards,” wrote ESPN. People assume Minnesota’s offense will be too crowded for Russell to score at a high clip.
But I’d argue it’s almost the opposite. Russell fits in best when he’s the primary playmaker, and the Wolves have surrounded Russell with the best supporting cast of his career. Russell is primed for a career year with a new pick-and-roll partner in the form of Rudy Gobert and two elite offensive players next to him.
I thought Russell was a strong leader last year, with the uptick to a career-high in assists and a newfound role on defense. If ESPN’s meaning of “lead guard” is the best guard, then that’s a really bad criteria and a complete misunderstanding of his role. Russell won’t ever be better than Ant, but he was more of a leader on offense last year, which is exactly what the Wolves need.
After a poor playoff series, many people are too low on Russell, including the ESPN list. But so often, people forget all of Russell’s clutch shots during the regular season. If Russell doesn’t drop 29 points in the play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Wolves aren’t facing the Memphis Grizzlies in the playoffs. It’s that simple.
For the Wolves and underestimated Russell might be the best form they can get. With all the negative narratives flying around, hopefully, Russell can channel those into fuel for his play on the court, especially in his contract year.