What Do the Wolves Need From DLo In A Make-Or-Break Year For Him?

Photo Credit: Chuck Cook (USA TODAY Sports)

With the recent excitement following the reveal of the Minnesota Timberwolves 2022-23 schedule, many fans are eagerly focusing on several key facets of this new-look team. From how the Rudy Gobert fit will ultimately look on the court to the continuous improvement of young superstar Anthony Edwards, fans have much to look forward to for this upcoming season.

However, amidst all the excitement lies a fairly significant question that needs an answer. What is D’Angelo Russell‘s future with this team?

Russell enters the final year of his $31.4 million deal, and the Wolves have yet to decide on extending Russell or not. During his appearance on The Dane Moore Podcast this month, Russell shared his desire to stay in Minnesota. “I just want to be where my feet are,” he said, “simple as that.”

With comments like this and Russell’s demonstrated commitment to being a leader on and off the court throughout this past year, the Wolves should be inclined to believe that Russell is willing to be a vital part of this team long-term. However, fans and some within the organization are a bit skeptical of retaining Russell due to some of his inconsistencies as a player. But Russell has also shown his potential to complete a potential big 4 with Karl-Anthony Towns, Gobert, and Anthony Edwards in multiple ways. At only 26 years old, he could still be a vital part of the team’s young core that leads the Wolves to meaningful success in the near future.

With their off-season addition of Gobert, the Wolves will have to successfully depend on their perimeter shooting to space the floor. Russell is the right man for that job.

Russell has shot around 36% from three and has averaged an effective field goal percentage of 50% so far in his career. He can serve as a spot-up shooter, and a player Ant can kick the ball out to when driving to the paint. Russell has also shown he’s capable of creating his own shot off the dribble, which allows him to generate his offense in a variety of play sets.

He also serves as the prime facilitator for the team. Russell averaged 7.1 assists per game last season for the Wolves, which was his highest average for a season in his career thus far. While Ant and KAT are the premier scoring options on the team, neither averaged more than four assists per game last season.

Fortunately, Russell can serve as the main distributor. Paired with a lob threat in Gobert, Russell could increase his assist average from last season using the pick-and-roll. With KAT at the three-point line, where he is a deadly shooter, Russell can find Edwards or Towns on the outside, drop-off, or lob the ball to Gobert in the paint.

With Russell on the court, Russell can help this team maximize its offensive versatility with his ability to both score and pass the ball. That will allow Edwards and Towns to focus on getting buckets.

Russell played 42 games and averaged 19 points and nearly 6 assists per game in 2020, his first full season with the Wolves. He also played alongside Towns, his longtime friend, and Ant as a rookie. Throughout his two or so seasons with Minnesota, Russell has shown his value to this team on and off the court, serving as a facilitator on offense and helping build team chemistry off of it.

With Edwards continuing to emerge as the primary wingman and premier scoring option alongside Towns, Russell has found himself in an opportune spot to solidify himself as the third scoring option and one of Minnesota’s most valuable players. While not directly comparing his playstyle to the likes of Klay Thompson or Desmond Bane, Russell could have a crucial role in his overall production and value for the Wolves this season by replicating their success as third stars.

Last season, the Wolves went 7-10 without Russell and 39-26 with him. While Russell played a role in the team’s win success, some areas of improvement for Russell should be noted as possible reasons why some are skeptical about retaining him long-term. Russell only shot 34% from three last year, the second-lowest percentage of his career thus far, and missed 17 games. He also struggled in Minnesota’s first-round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies.

Despite some of these struggles, Russell has displayed some essential abilities that showed he could be the third leading man for this young Wolves team. With Russell having averaged his career-best 7.1 assists per game last year, he illustrated his potential as the primary facilitator for this team’s offense.

Russell also came up big for the Wolves in their crucial play-in game against the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 29 points on great shooting splits of 55% shooting from two-point range and 60% from three. Russell finished the game with a +12 net rating, the highest amongst all starters for either team that night. Edwards also scored 30 points that night; all while Towns fouled out after having only played 24 minutes.

That served as a huge marker for Russell. He showcased his ability as a legit third-scoring option. The Wolves could have him on the court with either Towns or Edwards while one of them rests on the bench and still maintain a strong scoring punch on the floor throughout most of the game.

If Russell can get back to his 38% three-point shooting average from two years ago and show he can produce consistently in the playoffs, he can be the kind of vital piece the Wolves need. Russell can mesh with Edwards and Towns as a third All-Star level scoring threat. He’s also a skilled facilitator, and his ability to get hot at a moment’s notice should offer him the chance to show the organization he deserves a contract extension and be a part of this team’s long-term plans.

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Photo Credit: Chuck Cook (USA TODAY Sports)

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