Before the national media cared about the other basketball team
in New York City, the 2018-19 Brooklyn Nets were one of the dopest
stories in the NBA.
They were a hard-working, culture-changing, overachieving,
likable group who surprised many outside of (and within, if we’re
being honest) the New York Metropolitan Area by hustling their
asses to a 2019 playoff berth. It was their first in four years,
and marked the beginning of three consecutive postseason runs.
At the core of this period, there was an ongoing D’Angelo
Russell-Spencer Dinwiddie Twitter war that emotionally consumed
much of the fan base, a more insulated type than the one that rages
on today. In the 2017-18 season, Russell was the starting point
guard, and Dinwiddie entered the season in the third string on the
But after Jeremy Lin tore his Achilles on opening night — and
with Russell needing arthroscopic knee surgery one month in —
Dinwiddie stepped into a role that nearly landed him the league’s
Most Improved Player award.
The "Russell or Dinwiddie" talk extended to who should represent
the Nets if they had an All-Star, and then, Dinwiddie tore his the
UCL in his hand — first reported by Caron freakin'
Butler (!!) — clearing the runway for Russell. He then became
the replacement All-Star for Victor Oladipo, who tore his quad one
day before Dinwiddie tore his thumb — but honestly, Russell was
probably the most deserving of the three anyway.
(Go look back at Oladipo’s season. He was good, but less so than
you remember, primarily when held against his extraordinary 2017-18
You can draw a straight line from Russell’s breakout near
MIP-winning season in 2018-19 to watching Kevin Durant and Kyrie
Irving join the Nets later that summer. If not for Russell’s
emergence that helped put Brooklyn in position to abandon their process to chase
stars — which landed him in Golden State in exchange for Durant
— who knows if the Nets would've become what they have over the
last three years?
Since then, in a crowded talent pool of All-Star level NBA point
guards, Russell’s kinda become… underrated.
Now, this isn’t to say Russell is slept on like the way y’all
are sleeping on Top Boy, bison meat, Splinter Cell, Nas and
Hit-Boy’s Magic EP — or dipping your quesadilla in barbecue sauce —
but D'Lo's impact is a tad underdiscussed. Russell, 26, is mainly
overlooked in the way that a once-rising star who we believe to
have plateaued could be easily forgotten despite remaining near his
previous peak at arguably the NBA’s deepest position.
To this point, Russell’s been pretty durable, which is major
since he’s about to play his 46th regular-season game on Thursday,
his most since that '18-19 run in Brooklyn. The 31-28 Minnesota
Timberwolves are currently seventh in the Western Conference and
are 15-8 since Jan. 3.
In their now 33-season history, the Wolves have secured only
nine playoff berths, and just one since Kevin Garnett left (Jimmy
Butler’s only full season with the team). Even then, in 2017-18,
Minnesota only finished eighth in the West — fourth at the time of
Butler’s late-season meniscus injury — so the team hasn’t finished
seventh or higher since the 2003-04 season. That was the only time
the Wolves have ever gotten past the first round as a
It’s fair to say that they’re at least pretty, pretty,
pretty good by NBA standards. There are still reasons to be
skeptical regarding their legitimacy, but we’re usually penciling
them in for yet another lottery draft pick ‘round this time of
year. And look, they may still get one, but we’re
approaching March, and they’re in games that matter. Russell
deserves some credit for that, as he does for still producing since
'18-19 and proving his breakout wasn’t a fluke.
The Timberwolves' “quiet ass” fans are apparently so stunned at
their relative success that they’re not cheering enough. This is
sh*t they ain’t used to!
(To be fair, D’Angelo, on the night you called out your
quiet-ass fans, y’all were playing the Detroit Pistons and beat
them by 13. My ass would be quiet if I saw my team semi-spank a
Cade Cunningham-less skeleton crew led by 24 non-threatening Saddiq
To his credit, those quiet asses answered though!
This season, Russell’s averaging 18.8 points and 7.0 assists on
.408/.351/.802 shooting splits. It doesn’t wow you on the surface —
not even when I tell you he’s tied for 12th in assists per game
this season (7.0) ahead of guys like LeBron James, Ja Morant, Jrue
Holiday and his old teammate Dinwiddie.
Minnesota is third in pace, fifth in scoring, 10th in Offensive
Rating and 14th in Net Rating as a result.
However, it's the Timberwolves' defense that has been, as local
reporting out of Minnesota has put it this season, "quarterbacked" by Russell — an
area that has been one of the foremost knocks on him individually
since entering the league. And D-Lo’s grown into a leader in a
locker room that includes Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards
(and Patrick Beverley matters).
Can't tell what I liked more here the nail
help from D'Angelo Russell or the rotation from Jaden McDaniels.
You watch Russell, and without question, save for his deserved
All-Star season, he’s playing his most impactful basketball to
date. Currently, he has a career-high .105 win shares per 48
minutes and has been productive despite a 25.9% usage rating; it
isn’t low by any means, but it’s the lowest since his rookie
season. We’re also seeing Russell at optimal usage, even if he
isn’t an All-Star anymore, and will have a hard time getting back
there due to the depth at guard in #thisleague. (It’s not
completely impossible though.)
Russell is leading on both ends and ranks third in shot
attempts behind Towns and Edwards, where he should be, and will
have a $31 million expiring contract next season. So, yes, he’s
extension-eligible this summer. No, he shouldn’t get a max, but why
not ride this out if you’re Minnesota? You clearly have something
functioning at, for you, a high level — the highest you’ve
seen in five seasons and the second-highest since 2005. (Edwards
turned four that year, fam.)
So, yes, Russell has earned his extension so far and is ideally
the third option on a good team (as he is there), but is a primary
playmaker (as he’s been). Keeping a core together and continuing to
progress is the Wolves' best bet, which is incredibly important in
markets like Minnesota.
And, overall, we should commend Russell's sheer resiliency.
Others may have gone in the tank while trying to reclaim All-Star
status by now. He's out here helping a winner for a franchise
that's seen so few.
Oh, and while we're here, happy 26th birthday, D’Angelo.
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