D-Lo Proving Versatile for Evolving T-Wolves


The thought of D’Angelo Russell being a bench player wasn’t on anyone’s mind when he arrived in Minnesota.

A max player, Russell proved himself by leading the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs only a few seasons ago. Now, the point guard leads an improved backcourt with the likes of Ricky Rubio, fellow trade acquisition Malik Beasley, and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Anthony Edwards.

Only, with D-Lo recently returning from an ankle injury, his role with the Wolves has become an unexpected revelation.

Stuck in the Middle

Russell’s career thus far has been anything but stable. Short stints with the Lakers and Warriors bookend his tenure in Brooklyn, where he made his first playoff appearance against Philadelphia in 2019. Having been in Minnesota now for over a year, it still feels as if he hasn’t yet cemented himself. Injuries and the pandemic have made for a trying entrance, along with the coaching change in late February.

Flexibility is key in the modern NBA, however. Not just among abilities and skills, but roles and fulfillment of team needs. And from what lefty-shooter has shown thus far, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to secure wins for Minnesota.

D-Lo is currently riding the rail that divides the starting five and the young bench the T-Wolves have pieced together. Entering the Finch era on a minutes restriction, Russell eased his way back by providing a jolt to the Wolves’ rotation. For 15 straight games he led the bench, producing at 38% from three. Russell had a royal performance against the Jazz in the season’s series finale, posting 27 points along with 12 assists.

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But Russell really thrives when placed in bigger lineups. With Beasley, Jarrett Culver and Jaylen Nowell all being in some way unavailable, Russell has found his stride with Minnesota’s floor-spacing forwards (though a few of his most impressive four-man lineups include Jarred Vanderbilt who does his damage in the paint).

Reliable scoring and court vision are two of the best traits you get with D’Angelo Russell. He’s unafraid to try and pull off the risky passes or pull up from the logo. His versatility could be what keeps him from being a starter for the Timberwolves, and not in the way you might assume. Much like Atlanta’s Lou Williams or Utah’s Jordan Clarkson, Russell has that swagger when coming off the bench that provides a necessary push in all the right places. He’s energetic on defense, polished like the hardwood in transition, and creates for himself and others.

And the best part: he’s only 25.

To Tank or Not to Tank

Heading into their final stretch, there were strong feelings amongst fans as to whether or not they should aim to win out. The lottery percentages speak for themselves. With a bottom-three record, Minnesota has a 40% chance of keeping their top-3 pick from the Warriors. But finishing the season on a strong note — similar to Phoenix in the bubble — would provide much-needed confidence moving forward.

The scenarios get tricky with or without the top-three pick, as does D-Lo’s possible role moving forward. USC’s star freshman Evan Mobley has been linked to the Timberwolves and would provide immense support at the four and five. If the team were to snag the big man in the draft, then D-Lo would be likely to remain in the starting five. Although, many other mock drafts have featured Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham or Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs — a Minnesota Native — going to Minnesota with the first or second pick.

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Considering how stacked the Wolves are in the backcourt, it’s hard to imagine investing such a high pick on a guard without having plans for them to eventually start, if not immediately. Anthony Edwards has more-than proven himself a key player at the two, as has Jaden McDaniels in his natural position of small forward. In other words, the Wolves will face the privileged problem of having too much talent. Russell will no doubt be a key cog moving forward, but whether it’s starting or subbing in remains to be seen.

The plans of Chris Finch will unveil themselves over the course of the offseason. In a peculiar way, maybe the Wolves losing close games while key players thrive is the best-case scenario.

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About Andrew Johnson

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