2019-20 Offered A Teaser Of Things To Come For D'Angelo Russell, Timberwolves
PG | 6’4, 193 lbs
2019-20 season: 45 games, 32.3 MPG, 23.1 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.9 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 42.6 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 80.9 FT%
The worst-kept secret heading into the 2019-20 season was that the Timberwolves really wanted D’Angelo Russell on their team.
The fact that it wasn’t exactly a secret was probably by design.
The Timberwolves first went after Russell, one of Karl-Anthony Towns’ best friends, in free agency.
It made sense. Russell was a star-level point guard. His age fit the Timberwolves’ timeline much better than someone like Jeff Teague. Certainly, his style of play was more of a fit.
While the Wolves were close, Russell was instead dealt to the Warriors in a sign-and-trade deal that brought Kevin Durant to the Nets.
Russell’s fit with the Warriors didn’t make a whole lot of sense long-term considering Steph Curry and Klay Thompson would return in 2020-21. A starting lineup with those three would be too small but having a talent like Russell come off the bench seemed like it would be a waste as well.
That led to more speculation that Russell could get traded and the team that kept coming up was the Timberwolves.
Oftentimes, speculation surrounding trades in the NBA has no substance. Sometimes it’s a trade machine (shout out to Sachin Gupta!) Reddit post that goes viral, but that’s about it.
This was not one of those times.
About an hour before the trade deadline, Gerson Rosas and the Timberwolves made their move, trading Andrew Wiggins, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick for Russell.
It wrapped up what was probably the craziest trade deadline for any team in NBA history.
Rosas went from having a core of Towns, Wiggins and Robert Covington to having Towns, Russell and Malik Beasley.
Russell is nearly everything Timberwolves’ fans had been missing from the point guard position over the years. He’s a modern-day point guard who can score from all three levels. More importantly for Minnesota’s offense, he wasn’t afraid to shoot an open shot, especially from deep.
And while he’s probably considering a score-first point guard, Russell’s passing ability is an underrated aspect of his game.
There were just four players in the league who averaged 23 points per game and six assists per game while shooting 36.5 percent or better from the 3-point line in 2020-21.
One was Russell. The others were Trae Young, Damian Lillard and Devin Booker.
Russell played in just 12 games with the Timberwolves after the deadline and played in just one game with Towns and Beasley, so it’s probably not responsible to do a real deep dive on how those games went.
His averages were about what we’ve come to expect from him in those games: 21.7 PPG, 6.6 APG, 4.6 RPG, 41.2 FG%, 34.5 3P%
It took just five games for him to have an iconic moment with the club, blocking Jimmy Butler at the rim in Miami to clinch a Minnesota win. Russell finished with 28 points and seven assists.
The fact that it was Russell blocking Butler felt like some sort of sign from the basketball gods, at least for Timberwolves’ fans. While the Timberwolves have a top-10 talent in Towns, there was no denying he needed help. Butler helped the Wolves to the playoffs in 2017-18, but it was clear he wasn’t a good fit alongside a younger Timberwolves team in the locker room. With Russell and Towns’ background, it doesn’t feel like there are any scream-filled practices on the horizon.
Normally when we get deeper into these profiles, the end is reserved for what players can improve on during the offseason. This isn’t to say Russell is a perfect player. There are things every player can work on every offseason to improve. If you don’t, the league will pass you by. While Russell certainly will work on his game, the most important thing going into the 2020-21 season will be team chemistry. With Rosas making so many moves at the deadline, this team has only had a handful of practices together, and maybe one or two with everyone healthy. How the 2019-20 season ended didn’t make things any easier.
Training camp to start the 2020-21 season, whenever that might be, will be crucially important for Russell and the Wolves.
It feels like Russell is home and for him, that has to be a huge relief. After being drafted by the Lakers with the second-overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, he was traded to the Nets after just two years. After breaking out as a star in Brooklyn, the Nets decided to instead add Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. And then after 33 games with the Warriors, who never seemed like a great fit from the beginning, Russell now finds himself in Minnesota.
The Timberwolves needed a player like Russell for on-court success and to re-energize the fan base. The pairing of Russell and Towns has to remind fans of Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett if you squint long enough.
While it’s certainly a win for the Timberwolves, don’t sleep on how important this is for Russell. He’s a player the Timberwolves want to build around. It’s the perfect marriage for both sides. Of course, to make it a successful one, winning will have to follow.