If there is one word that describes D’Angelo Russell‘s 2021-22 campaign, it’s inconsistency. One night, the Minnesota Timberwolves would get 20/5/5 from Russell and the next 5/5/2 on horrible shooting splits. But when he was on his game and going deep in his bag, he elevated the team to another level. It wasn’t just his scoring but his excellent court vision.
He would elevate everyone around him. Many have written him off after his less than ideal playoff series against the Memphis Grizzles in the first round. They are already looking to move on from the only 26-year-old guard. But if the Wolves stick with Russell next season, what can he do to convert those people back on his side?
Sharpening His Tools On Defense
Russell has never been known as a good defender throughout his 7-year career. However, last season he started to play better defensively. To be a good defender in the NBA, you must have a will to compete on that side of the ball. Not everyone has that, and unfortunately, coaches can’t instill that into players. That is where I believe Russell’s most significant defensive holes lie.
When Russell would get tangled up with someone bigger than him down low, he’d often just get out of that player’s way and give them an easy look at the hoop. I can understand why Russell would make a business decision in that situation. There isn’t a high chance he will stop them, and he can avoid a potential injury.
But then you look around the league at guys like Marcus Smart. He’ll either try and body him up or bait him into a charge call when he gets tangled up with a bigger player down low. That’s all Russell would have to do, draw a charge.
Russell averaged one steal per game this past season, and most of those were off double teams or getting in passing lanes, things Russell does very well. However, his on-ball defense is another somewhat major hole in his game. Whether that’s getting blown by on the perimeter or a defensive miscue, Russell’s assignment often blew by him.
Patrick Beverley picked up a lot of Russell, and the entire team’s, slack on defense. If DLo wants to be less of a defensive liability and be less reliant on the help of others, defense should be on top of his fix-it ticket.
Russell is one of those players who chucks up certain shots that look amazing but also has devastating misses. Therefore, Russell’s shot selection could use a quick tune-up.
However, Russell has gotten good at his swipe-through foul on the perimeter. He often draws contact and takes the ball out of bounds. Still, on the rare occasion that the refs don’t bite on that call, DLo is stuck throwing a prayer at the hoop mid-air. While this isn’t that big of a problem right now, NBA refs may start cracking down on that call, resulting in fewer whistles and more missed shots.
Russell’s shot selection has improved over the years, but his constant chucking from deep is still annoying. When those shots fall and DLo finishes with 25+, we’re inclined to forget about the nights when he’s off and disrupts the offense.
There is no question that Russell is a big-time shot-maker. But when his shots just aren’t falling, it may be in his best interest to feed Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. Russell has gotten better at distributing this season, but I would love to see more of that this coming year.
There are widespread rumors that the Wolves are shopping Russell, but I don’t buy it.
Tim Connelly and Chris Finch have been speaking nothing but high praises for Russell and what he brings to the Timberwolves.
“DLo had a wonderful year,” told the media recently. “His big shot-making allowed this team to win 46 games.”
“DLo’s been great, very coachable, very bought in,” Finch told Ryen Russillo on his podcast recently. “His impact on our success was sometimes overlooked.”
Maybe they’re just trying to increase his value. But I don’t believe that for a minute.
Russell is on the last year of his $31.4M deal. If he ends up sticking around next season and Minnesota decides they weren’t fond of how he performed, they could just let him walk in free agency. Sure, you’d like to get some value out of him, but the cap space could be just as important if Minnesota decides to sign a bigger-name player.
No bone in my body wants the Wolves to trade Russell, and neither should you. His impact on this team was through the roof all season long and to write him off due to one lousy playoff series is unfair. Let’s give him a year to try to convert the critics back on his side and earn an extension with the Timberwolves.