After sending D’Angelo Russell to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline, the Minnesota Timberwolves had to figure out who was going to fill his three-point volume. DLo attempted 7 threes a night this season, which accounted for a significant chunk of the 33.4 threes that the Wolves attempted on average. And he shot a career-high 39.1% on those attempts.
Clearly, he held weight statistically. Furthermore, his ability to connect on pull-ups and catch-and-shoots added another wrinkle for defenses to prepare for. Not to mention, DLo was fresh off a month of January where he shot an impressive 46.3%. Moving forward, things could take a turn for the worst on a game-to-game basis because of Russell’s absence and because All-NBA Center Karl-Anthony Towns is still injured.
The Wolves have found ways around this thus far, though.
Here are their leading players in the 10 games since the trade:
Other players have more room to score after Minnesota traded Russell. Specifically, Jaylen Nowell, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, Austin Rivers, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who they added at the deadline, have increased their season average three-point volume to supplant the loss. Mike Conley has also provided three-point shooting. He has matched his season volume from Utah going from 1.8/5.0 (36.2%) to 2.0/5.2 (38.3%). Since trading Russell, the Wolves are averaging slightly above their season average with him, averaging 35.1 attempts a game. That has allowed them to stay afloat since the All-Star Break.
It has been sustainable so far. The Wolves are shooting an improved even 39% (13.7/35.1) over this stretch of 10 games with some outlier success from NAW and McDaniels, highlighting how they can gel perfectly until KAT returns. Three-point volume should be heavily factored in, though. It’s still uncertain when Towns will return, as well we can see how well the Wolves play when they find their three-ball, it can completely open up the interior for Ant and Gobert and vice versa for shooters.
The Sacramento Kings game was a perfect example. The Wolves used the gravity of the ball handler and Rudy Gobert’s roller gravity to find the opposite wing or corner wide open. Then they drove and kicked off this through simple actions like ball screens.
However, the Kings are an outlier. They haven’t defended well this season, and therefore, they were unable to limit Edwards’ rim pressure due to their poor interior defending. Still, the Sacramento game sets a blueprint for sustained success. The Wolves need to fully maximize their offense. Edwards is the clear No. 1 scorer, but it’s unclear who’s their No. 2. When Ant has a down game, others begin to force the motion, creating a mess.
Ultimately, finding more three-point volume is valuable when Naz is playing 20 minutes a game. When you offer more spacing in a lineup without Rudy Gobert, you must capitalize on it. These lineups can be extremely volatile, though and lead to questionable shot selection.
However, because more are coming in favorable catch-and-shot situations while Ant carries the load on pull-ups makes Minnesota’s three-point scoring feel sustainable. The Wolves shot 8.0/22.1 (35.9%) on catch-and-shoot threes and 3.6/10.8 (33.9%) on pull-up threes during DLo’s time in Minnesota. In their three games post-trade, they sit at 9.2/23.1 (39.8%) on catch-and-shoot threes and 4.1/11.1 (36.9%) on pull-up threes. Surprisingly, Minnesota’s three-point volume and conversions has not changed drastically despite Russell’s departure.
While the Timberwolves are staying afloat, this should be absolutely vital moving toward the final stretch of the season. Scoring droughts have already been a prevailing issue for the Wolves lately. They often have a quarter that leads to insurmountable leads to overcome, like the Philadelphia 76ers game, for example. The offensive processing is something that is lacking right now, it is difficult to hold onto composure throughout an entire game.
While I will praise Conley for his steady play, the Wolves need to find more structure to their offensive game and not completely rely on freelance. Finding ways to get Ant, Rudy, Conely, and Jaden involved will only open up more on the outside for kick-outs and more catch-and-shoot opportunities. They will have to find more ways to be creative, or things will become stagnant and revolt back to what we had expectations for post-trade.