The Timberwolves traded what became the Nos. 7 and 36 picks in last year’s draft (and a future All-Star in Andrew Wiggins, though he was seen as a negative-value player) just to get D'Angelo Russell on a max contract.
But with its season on the line in Game 6 against the Grizzlies, Minnesota sat Russell in crunch time.
Russell, via Chris Hine of the StarTribune:
The Timberwolves held exit interviews Saturday and when asked if he was OK with the benching, Russell said, “No. Not at all.”
He then asked a reporter if he would like it if he were denied an opportunity to do his job. The same went for him.
“Of course I want to be out there,” Russell said.
Of course Russell wasn’t happy about getting benched. No player would be.
A big question: Does Russell blame himself or Timberwolves coach Chris Finch?
Backup point guard Jordan McLaughlin was outplaying Russell. Russell wasn’t good enough in Game 6 (seven points on 3-of-7 shooting with four turnovers) or the entire series (12 points per game, 29% on 2-pointers). Though Russell – a good outside shooter – can play better offensively, his defense was poor as usual.
Russell has shown impressive perspective over his career. He might channel this setback in all the right ways and improve his game.
But point guard looks like an area Minnesota could seek an upgrade as the team rises with Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.
A complication: Towns and Russell are close, and Towns even said the Timberwolves acquiring Russell was big incentive to stay. Though Towns sounds like he’ll sign a contract extension, Russell’s presence might be part of Towns’ thinking.
Finch, via Hine
“We still think the fit is great,” Finch said of Russell. “His skill set, his playmaking, all that stuff hasn’t changed. We’ve just got to figure out maybe some different sets or structures that kind of accentuate those things too. I could’ve done a better job of trying to get him into the series a little bit more with some plays for him maybe off the ball.”
This is also true. Minnesota could put Russell in more-advantageous positions. As Edwards and Towns took such prominent offensive roles, Russell didn’t have the easiest pathways for contributing.
But defensively? That’s on Russell to clean up if he wants to play in the highest-leverage moments.