What the Minnesota Timberwolves can expect from D’Angelo Russell

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 16: D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Golden State Warriors shoots a three over Mason Plumlee #24 of the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 16: D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Golden State Warriors shoots a three over Mason Plumlee #24 of the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves finally got their crown jewel in D’Angelo Russell. What can fans expect to see from the star guard?

While this trade did come somewhat out of the blue, it shouldn’t be a major surprise. D’Angelo Russell has been the prime target for the Minnesota Timberwolves front office since they took control in the summer.

The Wolves haven’t had a point guard that can score and facilitate for others in something like a generation, depending on what your thoughts were on Stephon Marbury. The addition of Russell changes that.

Russell hasn’t exactly had a smooth or traditional career path. In the last two years, however, he has proven that he is so much more than just potential.

The addition of D’Angelo Russell gives the Timberwolves an offensive ceiling that they have never seen before.

One of the biggest changes this front office and coaching staff have tried to implement has been the emphasis on the 3-point shot. The meager success they’ve seen has been evident, and a major cause of that has been their lack of a scoring point guard.

This year Russell is shooting 37.4 percent from three on almost ten attempts per game. This is a major improvement on what the team’s percentage from three had been, 32.5 percent.

While Russell’s outside shooting is an improvement, the actual enticing part of his game is the myriad of ways he scores. Russell can score out of the pick-and-roll, in isolation, running off screens, or spotting up.

The potential of a high pick-and-roll between D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns is impossible not to get excited about. This season when Russell is running the pick-and-roll, he is scoring .889 points per possession (PPP) which ranks in the 60th percentile, per Synergy.

This season the Timberwolves have only had their pick-and-roll ball-handler score 16.9 percent of the time (23rd in the league). I would expect this number to rise dramatically, as Russell has developed a great understanding of how to use the screen as he scores 1.04 PPP (74th percentile) when he dribbles off the screen.

In the below clip, we see how Russell manipulates defenders by using the screen (unfortunately this is against the Timberwolves). Russell uses a quick in-and-out dribble which completely fools his defender. After this move, Russell knows that he now has free reign to score how he pleases. He could have easily pulled up for three but instead decides that he can get an easier shot. Russell freezes the back-peddling Towns with a hesitation dribble and scores with an easy floater.

When Russell takes floaters after using the screen, he scores 1.132 PPP (82nd percentile). Russell isn’t limited to scoring like this, though, after using a screen. He is also scoring 1.421 PPP (92nd percentile) when defenders go under the screen.

This navigation of the pick-and-roll will create a ton of headaches for defenders as they try to deal with the shooting of Towns and the scoring versatility of Russell.

Russell’s skill at scoring in isolation will have a positive impact from day one. The Timberwolves have ranked 19th in the league in isolation scoring with just .887 PPP.

Russell is scoring 1.026 PPP which puts him in the 81st percentile. This is incredibly important because when Towns isn’t on the floor, someone can still create some offense.

Russell has been effective when shooting in isolation situations, .964 PPP (53rd percentile), but he excels when he drives. When he attacks in isolation situations, he is scoring 1.109 PPP (86th percentile).

Here we see Russell take full advantage of a center having the gall to switch onto him. Russell starts with a series of crossovers before attacking to his left. His defender does a nice job of staying in front so Russell knows that he has to get creative. Russell uses a quick step-back shot fake to unbalance his defender.

Russell knows that his defender has the size and length advantage so instead of forcing a jumper that will likely get blocked, Russell gets creative with an up-and-under scoop shot that his defender doesn’t have a chance to block.

D’Angelo Russell is a gifted on-ball scorer, but what separates him is his off-ball shooting ability. This season the Timberwolves rank first in the league in spot-up scoring situations at 24.6 percent of the time. Unfortunately, and this is a common theme for this team, they rank 26th in PPP in these situations.

Despite Russell being primarily a ball-dominant guard, he is also a very talented off-ball shooter which will be very useful with how this team wants to play. When D’Angelo Russell is spotting up and shoots off the catch, he is scoring 1.405 PPP (91st percentile). In other words, there are only 32 players with better numbers.

Similar to spotting up, Russell is also extremely impressive when he is running off of screens as he is scoring 1.106 PPP (79th percentile). Imagining Towns creating from the top of the key with Russell running off screens is captivating.

In the below clip we can see Russell’s comfort with playing away from the ball. Russell starts in the corner at the top of the video. The play is always set up for him to relocate to the opposite wing, but he adds some creativity into his movement. As Russell makes his way towards the lane, he fakes as if he is going to relocate back to his original corner instead of to the opposite wing. This fake completely loses his defender as Russell makes his move to the opposite wing.

Russell recognizes that his defender’s only chance of recovering is to try and cut the passing lane. To avoid this, Russell settles more towards the corner instead of fully going up to the elbow. This gives him plenty of space for an easy three.

D’Angelo Russell is a solid playmaker, but he is known for his scoring. At this point, that’s all that matters for the Timberwolves. The absence of backcourt scoring for this franchise has taken its toll. The versatility of Russell’s scoring immediately raises the ceiling of this team’s offense.

Personally, I was initially skeptical of the Timberwolves making this move. I don’t trust Russell defensively and still have concerns that he isn’t as effective as his numbers suggest. However, after diving in a bit more, it becomes clear that this was a great move for the Timberwolves.

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At the very least, this move helps placate Towns. At best, the Timberwolves have one of the best guard/big pairings in the league. Russell will make a positive impact from day one with his scoring versatility. He can initiate the offense or act as an off-ball shooter. This team has the potential to finally be fun thanks to the offensive brilliance of D’Angelo Russell.