The time has come that I as soon as once more write about D’Angelo Russell. I am fairly certain that there is not a single Minnesota Timberwolf that I’ve written extra phrases about. I discover him to be a captivating character. In entrance of the mic, he’s most frequently soft-spoken and considerate, however he has a presence that may really feel distant and aloof at instances. Then, out of nowhere, there can be moments the place he appears to let his guard down, opening as much as the media and offering deeply insightful discourse. He’s the other of reserved on the court docket. He’s loud, talks infinite trash, and has the arrogance to be the most effective participant on the court docket on any given evening.
It looks as if it has been an eternity since Russell landed in Minnesota. Gersson Rosas was adamant in his want to amass him and made a franchise-altering transfer, sending Andrew Wiggins to the Golden State Warriors. Within the earlier offseason, he had met DLo in Los Angeles for a helicopter journey over town in a futile try to court docket him in free company. Right here we’re virtually three years later, and DLo has not solely arrived in Minnesota, however he was additionally a vital a part of their journey to the playoffs this season.
When he stepped off the aircraft, he stated repeatedly, “This a film to me.” Nicely, till this 12 months, the DLo Timberwolves film was a montage of him and Karl Anthony Cities — star-crossed lovers on this metaphor — who tried desperately to cross paths however might by no means make it work. The COVID shutdown and accidents saved them from enjoying vital minutes collectively for the primary season and a half. Now the pair have a season’s value of tape to evaluation, and the query is: Did it work?
An preliminary evaluation tells me that it labored nice. The Wolves had a 46-36 document, had been three factors per 100 possessions higher when DLo was on the court docket, and their beginning lineup was one of the dominant within the league. The Wolves’ starters had the fourth-best internet score of any five-player lineup that performed not less than 250 minutes this season. So, the preliminary assumption must be that the DLo and Cities pairing is value investing in. Even throughout Russell’s horrible playoff efficiency, the Wolves had been higher with him on the court docket.
Due to all this crew success, many have lauded Russell. They proclaim that he had among the best seasons of his profession, rivaling even his All-Star 12 months in 2018-19. However when analyzing his complete tenure within the league, it is essential to keep in mind that that is solely the third 12 months he is performed greater than 60 video games in a season. A lot of what DLo might be is misplaced in half- or quarter-seasons derailed by harm. Group success is essential, however Russell’s particular person statistics, there’s not a lot argument that this season was something particular. He shot 34% from 3-point vary, effectively under his profession common. He posted his worst BPM since 2017-18. All in all, his statistical abstract does not scream “profession 12 months.”
I’ve written about DLo’s All-Star season and his irreplicable taking pictures that 12 months. His numbers had been insane. We should not count on him to supply at that stage once more. However we noticed Russell begin to change his sport this season. It is the primary time in his profession that he is been a 3rd possibility. He gave a prolonged response when requested about his chemistry with Cities after the season. I am going to share the entire thing as a result of I believe it is extremely informative:
“I believe it was rocky, to be trustworthy. We had been figuring it out after which we had both COVID or one thing occur. It brought on him to be out or me to be out…that form of stunted our development. We’re such followers of one another that we discovered a strategy to make it work in moments the place we clearly in all probability did not have the chemistry as a result of we did not play collectively as a lot as we might’ve thought. I take into consideration the time of us enjoying, our chemistry is constant to develop.
“He makes the sport straightforward. Once you’re on the market enjoying in opposition to a few of these groups. They do not know how one can guard him, they do not know how one can guard myself. And you bought Ant and you bought a number of guys who’re attacking as effectively. I’ve by no means actually been in that place the place I am going into the sport figuring out that the crew’s in all probability not nervous about me as a lot. It provides me that lane to have a look at it from a unique perspective and attempt to assault it a unique manner. They’re ready for this man, that man, that hit, that punch, so this 12 months it put me in a task of determining how I used to be gonna assault. That allowed our chemistry to be a little bit up-and-down.”
Right here Russell acknowledges that this 12 months was a complete new expertise for him. he was the no 1 possibility more often than not in Brooklyn. Utilizing Synergy, I discovered that Russell ran pick-and-roll 50% of the time he had the ball in his arms in 2018-19. That is a ton of choose and roll. Contemplating he had a utilization price of practically 32% that season, a lot of the offensive load was on his shoulders. Nevertheless, his utilization price dipped to 25% this 12 months, the bottom since his rookie season. His commonest play sort continues to be because the pick-and-roll ball-handler, however his spot-up frequency has elevated from 11.7% to 18.4% of his performs.
As his sport transitions away from being a high-usage pick-and-roll operator, he’s additionally adapting to the way in which that Cities performs. Russell had Jarrett Allen with the Nets, who rolled to the basket virtually each time. Cities has a way more various offensive sport, giving DLo extra choices within the pick-and-roll. With extra choices comes a better alternative for achievement. Extra routes to the basket imply much less visitors. However with extra choices, there are additionally extra selections to be made. We noticed DLo’s decision-making waver this season. He had his greatest assist-to-turnover ratio of his profession. He additionally received benched in Sport 6 in no small half due as a result of he saved throwing the ball away.
The underside line is that DLo’s sport has been up-and-down for so long as he is been within the league. When his mid-range is absolutely going, he appears to be like like an All-Star. When he’s on track together with his passing, he appears to be like like among the best complementary guys within the league. However this stuff come and go too typically with DLo. In fact, all this does not actually matter. Russell is nice sufficient for the Wolves to seemingly really feel snug investing in for the long run as a result of he’s KAT’s man. When Cities was requested about chemistry with Russell, he shared a solution that was far more constructive than DLo’s response.
“We discovered ourselves inflicting a variety of havoc on individuals,” he stated. “Simply with our pick-and-roll skill, scoring skill, chemistry, every part. It was nice enjoyable simply to get an opportunity to play with him. … It was a blessing to really be on the market and provides him 100% of myself, in contrast to the opposite years the place I used to be enjoying with a forged on.”
It looks as if Cities loved having Russell as his working mate. So long as that’s the case, DLo’s seat on the Wolves’ desk is probably going reserved. Nonetheless, it is going to be essential to proceed to observe the front-office modifications this offseason. Russell was Gersson Rosas’ huge fish, not essentially Sachin Gupta’s. Gupta has proven to be far more conservative than Rosas in his 12 months because the interim chief within the entrance workplace. It might appear out of character for him to make such an enormous transfer given what we have seen from him to this point, particularly when the Cities-and-Russell pairing was so profitable throughout the common season.
Russell and Cities have been excited to play with one another for the reason that second DLo’s aircraft touched down. Now that they’ve, it was ok for Cities and the Wolves to make the playoffs. Wolves followers should not count on to see D’Angelo Russell wherever moreover Minnesota subsequent season.