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Something Good Is Happening With The Timberwolves' Backcourt

by Kyle Ratke, Digital Content Manager

Digital Content Manager

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It’s been less than three weeks since the NBA trade deadline when the Timberwolves made every single move besides moving the website guy for a bag of sunflower seeds, which actually seems like a pretty good deal for the Wolves if I'm being honest.

It’s been hard to evaluate the situation post-trade mostly because Karl-Anthony Towns, the team’s best player, fractured his wrist. It’s tough to know what a situation will look like without a team’s best player. 

Even so, it’s our job to try. 

With Towns’ absence, we’ve seen the offense roll through Minnesota’s backcourt. And D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley haven’t disappointed.

Russell, the player who the Timberwolves have been openly after since last summer, has given the team a point guard type fans haven’t had since Stephon Marbury. Russell is a crafty playmaker who is probably known more as a scoring point guard, but he’s also a better-than-advertised passer. In four games with the Timberwolves, Russell has averaged 8.5 assists.

When it comes to confidence, this is where Russell shines. This isn’t a knock on Jeff Teague, but sometimes Teague hesitated when making decisions. That didn’t fit Minnesota’s shoot or get off the pot offensive strategy. It always seemed like Teague wanted to get his teammates involved when it was clear he should shoot. While Russell might attempt more midrange shots than Ryan Saunders likes, he’s also pretty efficient from there – it kind of reminds me of when Chris Paul sizes up a bigger player and hits the step-back midrange shot.  

It’s a small sample size, and maybe his shot attempts will go down when Towns returns, but Russell has been as advertised with the Timberwolves, averaging what-would-be career-highs of 23.8 points while shooting 43.7 percent from the field. He’s also getting to the free-throw line a career-high 5.5 times and hitting at 95.5 percent.

Again – small sample size, but plenty to be excited about moving forward. 

Now to Beasley, a guy who literally might never leave the gym.

Beasley has scored 20 or more points in four of his six games with the Timberwolves this season. That was something he did just once for Denver this season.

I get you have to figure in the offseason, but it certainly seems like Beasley deserved a bigger role with the Nuggets. How doesn’t a guy like this help a playoff team? 

But here we are and Beasley is in Minnesota, a place where he’ll get a huge opportunity. Beasley is one of those guys who just impacts the locker room in all the right ways. His work ethic and his passion are infectious.

Oh, that guy is getting shots up before and after practice? Maybe I should, too. 

Random thought that probably doesn't fit here: There was one time in middle school football when a player on our team got in trouble. The coach made him run and gave us the option to run with him. We all said no because why would we want to run? Well, to punish us for being sane, the coach made us run, too. 

A work ethic is awesome, but sadly in the NBA, it doesn’t matter if you’re not a good basketball player. But guess what?! Malik Beasley is also a really good basketball player! 

In his time with Minnesota, Beasley is averaging 21.8 points and six rebounds while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from the 3-point line on 9.7 attempts per game.

With Russell being 24 and Beasley being 23, it’s hard not to think about how good these two can be if they continue to improve, which they certainly will. 

It’s not all peaches and cream here, I know. Just because we are Timberwolves.com doesn’t mean we are blinded by positivity. The Timberwolves are 1-5 since the trade deadline. Towns’ absence plays into that, as does the fact that the Wolves have gone through the gauntlet of the Raptors, Celtics, Nuggets and Mavericks – three homecourt advantage teams and one trying to get there.

Defensively, this unit has to improve. Without Towns, there’s no rim-protecting and that makes life hard on the perimeter players. If you get up on a guy and take away the 3, he could blow by you and get to the basket. If you give him a step, he’ll hit the 3 over you. We saw the best example of that on Monday night against the Mavericks. 

Eventually, Naz Reid will be better in these situations. But he’s an undrafted 20-year-old. While he’s exceeded our expectations up to this point, he’s not an All-Star player just yet. 

With 26 games left on the schedule, the Timberwolves are 11.5 games back from the playoffs. But this season was never really about that. It was about getting the right core together for what Saunders and Gersson Rosas wanted to accomplish long term. Russell and Beasley are going to be a big part of that, and with how they are playing, for good reason. 

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