Changes are coming in Minnesota.
Fresh off a 46-36 campaign and competitive first-round exit, the
Timberwolves have already gone swinging. There's a new sheriff in
town, with former Denver Nuggets president Tim
Connelly joining the team in a similar role. The price was
huge: a five-year deal worth north of $40 million
and — and! — equity in the organization, per The
Athletic. It's a monstrous deal with the potential for more — a
deal, as my Dunker Spot co-host Steve Jones Jr. described on our latest episode, that the Nuggets
weren't likely to match.
There's obvious intrigue in Connelly's move to Minnesota, namely
him leaving a successful division rival that currently
rosters a back-to-back MVP in Nikola Jokic to do so. But the
interest for me has come with the reporting around the move. Take
this passage from The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski and Shams
Charania as negotiations were heating up between the two
Leaving the two-time MVP for upstart Minnesota would be a bold
move. But the Timberwolves do have a pair of building blocks in
Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, promising young talent in
Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt, a coach who is revered
throughout the organization and an ownership group that appears to
be motivated to invest in the organization.
Hmm... notice anyone missing? Also, the "ownership group that
appears to be motivated to invest" portion could be seen as subtle
shade toward the organization that was on track to lose Masai Ujiri
(killing it in Toronto since 2014) and Connelly due to being
And how about this one, from Krawczynski and Charania again,
after the deal was done?
There are reasons beyond financial for him to be optimistic
about the situation in Minnesota. Connelly will be taking over a
team with two stars in Towns and Edwards, promising young players
in Jaden McDaniels and Vanderbilt and a top-notch coach in Chris
Finch, who spent one season working with Connelly in Denver as an
assistant on Malone’s staff. D’Angelo Russell had a strong season
before struggling in the playoffs and Patrick Beverley asserted
himself as a tough, veteran leader for a young group.
Ah, there's the name. But you see why my brow
is raised, right? Towns and Edwards represent the core. McDaniels
and Vanderbilt are the young pieces dubbed to grow alongside them.
The 26 year-old Russell — one of Towns' best friends making north
of $30 million this season — went from not being mentioned at all
in the lead-up piece, to essentially getting a throw-in line with
Beverley in the update five days later.
Oh, it doesn't help that Jordan McLaughlin was closing out
playoff games while a healthy Russell watched in Round 1. Add in
the fact that Russell's future has already been questioned, and I
think it's fair to assume what the
big roster swing for the Wolves will
Any team acquiring him will be on the hook for over $31 million
next season, though that's the only year left on
WHAT RUSSELL BRINGS
Russell remains a smooth operator. He's a proactive passer, one
who's able to see and fire into a gap before most
players know what's happening. You'll see it with his transition
hit-aheads, as well as some of the reads he'll make in
And about pick-and-roll: Not many players blend pull-up shooting
and high-level passing like Russell does. You can't afford to duck
under against him, or drop your big back too far. He will
absolutely waltz into jumpers. Once he gets hot, you're forced to
press up — and that opens up even more passing windows for him.
Russell was one of 31 players to receive at least 1,500 on-ball
picks this season, per Second Spectrum. Russell-led ball screens
were good for nearly 1.03 points per possession (PPP), a top-10ish
mark in NBA among high volume ball-handlers.
You can thank the jumper for that — Russell converted 37% of the
pull-up threes he attempted out of pick-and-roll, per InStat
tracking. For comparison, that put him in line with high volume
pull-up artists like Stephen Curry (38.9%) and Trae Young
(Also: Shout out to Darius Garland for bombing away at a 42.5%
clip. That guy's getting paid.)
Russell is what I'd describe as a two-level scorer. He's
comfortable firing from deep, and he's able to snake and hunt shots
around the elbow area with the best of them. Rim pressure is...
simply not his thing. Only 16% of Russell's shots came at the rim
last season, a mark that ranks in the 16th percentile per Cleaning
The Glass. (Not great!)
And as someone who rarely got to the rim, Russell didn't draw
many shooting fouls either. The lack of "easy points" lends to a
boom-or-bust nature in Russell's game. His pull-up jumper is a
legit weapon, but things kinda crater for him if it isn't falling
in a way that isn't helpful for
your lead ball-handler.
I think a truth has become (more) clear — Russell needs to be
paired with a ball-dominant rim threat to get the best out of
That was the intrigue around Edwards taking more of a lead role
in the second half of the season. In theory, Edwards ability to
touch the paint on any given possession would lead to easier
catch-and-shoot — or catch-and-drive — opportunities for Russell. A
team trading for Russell should have a similar infrastructure in
Defensively, Russell found his home as a middle linebacker. Most
teams rely on their primary rim-protector to call out coverages and
actions. For Minnesota, that responsibility was Russell's. It was
an odd dynamic, but one that worked. He was often seen
and heard barking out instructions while he zoned up
behind the action.
I remained worried about him in more conservative defensive
schemes. Russell isn't the quickest laterally. And while he's
improved a bit from his rookie season (I'd hope so!), screen
navigation remains an issue for him overall.
With the Wolves, Russell was blessed with the opportunity to
roam off-ball (his ideal role) while having the screen navigation
issues limited due to his big hedging ball-screens with him. If
Russell's dumped into a drop scheme, the onus flips back on him to
stay attached to ball-handlers. That could be a tricky bet.
Due to Russell's contract and the context needed to unlock him
on both ends, it's hard to imagine 20+ teams blowing up the phones
in Minnesota. There are a few teams that:
1) Make theoretical sense for Russell's game
2) Have the contracts to at least get conversations started
The New York Knicks have been searching for a calming presence
at point guard for ages; at the very least, a guy that can grease
the wheels of an offense with pick-and-roll play. While an in-house
option is staring them in the face — I'm with you, Knick fans — it
wouldn't shock me to see the Knicks take a flier on a talent like
Russell, especially if it doesn't cost a core piece.
The contracts of Alec Burks, Derrick Rose, and Nerlens Noel get
you in the ballpark of Russell's number. The Knicks have the
Mavericks' first rounder in 2023 — a likely low 20s pick — to toss
in if the Wolves don't think that's enough.
In theory, you'd have Russell playing off the rim-battering of
RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. Maybe you get a more unlocked Randle
with someone that can thread the needle on tight-window passes more
The Wolves would be able to bolster their depth, adding some rim
pressure (Rose), movement shooting (Burks) and a big that can do
work in an aggressive scheme (Noel). The Knicks losing the latter
would be buffered by the retention of Mitchell Robinson and the
likely growth from Jericho Sims.
Quick question: Who's the best passer for the Los Angeles
Clippers? Follow-up question: How many names did you list before
naming an actual guard? The combined deals of Reggie Jackson and
Luke Kennard get you in the door. I can hear arguments about that
already being too much for L.A. I'd argue that Russell gives you
more on the playmaking front, gives you more size in the backcourt
and helps your defense without tapping into your wing depth. Again,
there's at least a conversation to be had.
If you're looking to pair Russell with a ball-dominant rim
threat, how about Luka Doncic and Dallas? At worst, Russell could
serve as a buffer to Jalen Brunson signing elsewhere. Tim Hardaway
Jr. and Dwight Powell would give the Wolves the movement shooting,
plus big-man depth combination to bolster their supporting cast.
I'd argue the Mavericks may have to throw in a pick, though they're
a little light on that front.
Lastly, would you rather have Russell or Cole Anthony? Actually,
don't answer that.