The playoffs were not kind to D’Angelo Russell. The Memphis Grizzlies often made him a facilitator first, and when he had to get up shots, they were often heavily contested. Luckily, the Wolves have acquired Rudy Gobert, who has accumulated the most screen assists over the past six years. The Wolves found a way to hold onto Jaden McDaniels and DLo in this trade. They had to give up a lot of draft capital, but they held onto their core from last season.
DLo has a lot to prove after his suboptimal playoff series. He averaged 12 points, 6.7 assists, and 2.5 rebounds on shooting splits of 33.3/38.7/75.0 against Memphis. He could not find any rhythm in his game. While you expect most players to have their stats dip during the playoffs, Russell had his play dwindle far below what any team would want from one of their three best players, and his play on the court matched the numbers. Honestly, it may have looked worse.
Looking back, though, Minnesota’s offense didn’t enable him like his previous teams did.
Russell had Jarrett Allen, an excellent screener, in Brooklyn. Allen consistently has the agility to roll and be a lob threat, which complemented DLo’s game. He can find his spots in the mid-range and be much more effective with those looks. Russell was able to find his comfort zone when attacking in the four- to 14-foot range. He was attempting shots at a career-high 24% from four to 14 feet in his two years in Brooklyn — 75th percentile in the league. Success came as a result. He shot 44.7% from four to 14 feet, placing him in the 80th percentile for accuracy, per Cleaning the Glass.
Here is what his shot chart looked like. The darker blue indicates a higher percentage than league average. He shot 51.8% inside the free-throw line, significantly above the league average mark of 42.3%.
Allen greatly assisted Russell’s mid-range game, too. He would create separation for DLo to get downhill, creating more open, less contested shots. Specifically, in D’Angelo’s 2018-19 season, he found much more success from 2-point range with the defender 4+ ft away, per NBA.com.
Not only was Russell able to find more frequent open looks for two points, but Allen’s gravity created by the screen and roll also helped open things up for him. After a solid screen, the defender underneath would frequently become responsible for both the roll man and ball-handler. Therefore, Russell was at an advantage for an open floater, pocket pass, or lob, often leading to points. Russell had the second-most pick-and-roll possessions a game that season, averaging 0.89 points per possession, landing him in the 67th percentile. That’s an excellent rate for the high frequency of possessions per NBA.com.
The Wolves have lacked a true lob threat for a long time. Gobert had 19 times more lobs caught than Minnesota’s entire team this past season.
Gobert is notorious for his screen assist skill. He uses his massive frame and underrated footwork to indirectly seal off defenders on the ball and create offense. One of Gobert’s most underrated skills is the ability to rescreen when he doesn’t initially get the screen to go or when he can’t get the angle to get in front of the defender.
Gobert’s screening acumen matched incredibly with slower-paced, patient, savvy playmakers in Joe Ingles and Mike Conley. There are direct parallels to Russell, who does not have the extreme athleticism that many other talented guards possess. Therefore, he has to rely on the pace of play to gain an advantage.
Using this change of pace also dovetails with Gobert in the pick-and-roll. And now that Anthony Edwards is the secondary ball-handler, Ant can use his athletic gifts to change it up and play off Gobert.
It doesn’t always have to be on-ball, though. I would love to see D’Angelo as an off-ball shooter, a role he played heavily in his brief stint with the Golden State Warriors. Russell has a positive career as a catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter.
- MIN 2021-22: 1.4/4.0 (34.4%) (shooting was down league-wide last year)
- MIN 2020-21: 1.4/3.6 (39.1%)
- GSW/MIN 2019-20: 1.5/3.8 (39.1%)
- BRK 2018-19: 1.3/3.3 (39.4%)
- BRK 2017-18: 1.1/3.1 (36.4%)
Gobert can supplement Russell’s off-ball skills by setting pindown screens and keeping himself active with the offense, thereby staving off stagnation. If DLo becomes a threat, either the roll is more open for Gobert, or the player on the ball is given more spacing in the middle of the court, opening up the offense even more.
It should be fascinating to see how Chris Finch works with the twin towers of Gobert and KAT. But DLo can help with the transition, making it easier for everyone else while raising his game.