Heading into this season, the talk of D’Angelo Russell was centered on his play alongside his new pick-and-roll partner Rudy Gobert. In turn, this led many Minnesota Timberwolves fans to expect big things from the 26-year-old guard on the last year of a 4-year, $117 million contract. However, Russell found himself in trade talks after a slow start to the season.
The Wolves have needed more time than expected to get acclimated. That’s especially true for DLo. As Minnesota’s primary ball handler, Russell had arguably the most demanding job of anyone on the Wolves roster. He had to figure out when he should look for his own shot and when to find others.
Just over 50 games into the season, things are finally starting to turn around for a Timberwolves squad that owns an 11-5 record since the new year and their players-only meeting. Now, they are two games back from the 4th seed in the Western Conference.
Most surprising with Minnesota’s improved play? They’re doing it without Karl-Anthony Towns, who went down just under two months ago due to a right calf strain. They’ve achieved this higher level of play thanks to the growing chemistry between Anthony Edwards and DLo.
“I feel like me and him [Edwards] have that rapport going on,” said Russell at Monday morning’s shootaround. “Where feeding off my energy, and I’m feeding off his. You see SloMo, Jaden, Rudy, and those guys, being that for us. The system that coach has us playing in right now is allowing anybody to kind of step up and thrive.”
Edwards’ dominance over the last month or so is evident, and he’s making a good case for becoming a first-time All-Star. However, Ant’s ability to take over games in certain stretches has been able to happen courtesy of DLo.
The Sacramento Kings were in Target Center Saturday night in a huge Western Conference duel. Russell came out firing, netting 7 triples on 7 attempts in just the first half.
Trailing by two points heading into halftime, it appeared this was going to be a game where DLo had to do all the heavy lifting for the Wolves to come out on top. However, Ant took over in the final two frames – leading his team to an impressive 117-110 win.
However, DLo went 0-for-6 from the floor in the second half – only tacking on two more points. Despite Russell’s numbers looking poor on paper, you got the feeling when watching the game live that DLo went away from hunting for his own shot and deferred to his teammates more.
“I don’t know if it’s like intentional, but it’s kinda’ how they’re doing it, I guess,” said Finch regarding Russell and Edwards sharing the offensive workload in between halves. “DLo’s staying ready; his catch-and-shoot is really on point. That’s big for him and for us. He exits, and Ant’s out there by himself and turns it up a notch.”
DLo and Ant’s ability to play off each other has grown immensely throughout this season. Edwards is the type of off-guard who needs the ball in his hands more often than not to maximize his effectiveness – think of a prime James Harden. The same is true for Russell. However, Russell’s ability to play off the ball while letting Ant do his thing at the point of attack has not only taken both of their games to the next level but also the whole team.
We saw on Monday night a very tough loss handed to them by the Kings – getting revenge for Saturday’s loss. Ant continued his dominance with 33 points. However, ‘Lo had a very rough night as he shot just 4-for-16 from the floor and 2-for-10 from beyond. In response, the Wolves could not keep up their offensive output – proving just how crucial the success of both DLo and Ant is to this team winning games.
Regardless, Tim Connelly has a tough decision in the coming weeks. As I stated, DLo’s name has been popping up in many trade rumors. However, those talks have died down in recent weeks, with some reports and speculation coming out that the Wolves plan to keep Russell on the team past the February 9th trade deadline.
If the Timberwolves were to keep DLo past the deadline, the pressure would be on Connelly heading into the offseason. If he lets Russell walk in free agency, the Wolves would lose that $30 million in cap room because they’re in the luxury tax. Furthermore, if Connelly would ultimately decide to extend Russell, there just wouldn’t be enough money to go around between him, Edwards, and Jaden McDaniels – all of whom have sizable paydays in the near future.
Regardless, DLo-Ant backcourt has been the main factor in the Wolves exceeding expectations since the Towns injury. Their growing chemistry and ability to play off each other have allowed the Wolves to reach that next level. Something that I believe needs to remain a staple of Timberwolves basketball for many years to come.