3 Minnesota Timberwolves players are too low in ESPN’s rankings

Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /
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Minnesota Timberwolves, D'Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell of the Minnesota Timberwolves. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

Minnesota Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell ranked No. 69 by ESPN

Let’s be honest: D’Angelo Russell probably should not have been an All-Star two years ago with the Brooklyn Nets.

Believe it or not, Russell was ranked No. 24 on last year’s ESPN player rankings list. That was — and still would be — way too high.

So, how did that happen? Russell led an exciting and surprising Brooklyn Nets team to 42 wins and a playoff berth in 2018-19. He has a silky crossover, makes head-snapping passes, and can splash jumpers from anywhere on the court. Plus, he played in a big market and had just been traded to another popular franchise in the Golden State Warriors.

But Russell has never been a top-25 player in the NBA, nor is he ever likely to achieve the right to make that claim.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s be clear: there are not 68 players better than D’Angelo Russell (subscription required for ESPN article). Before we get into some of the hard evidence, here are some examples of other lists disagreeing.

Before last season, Sports Illustrated’s player rankings had Russell at No. 44. (For reference, here are the Wolves players who made that list: Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Robert Covington, and Towns, who clocked in at No. 13.) This year’s list from Bleacher Report came out in July, and Russell was No. 45.

That feels about right, doesn’t it? Here’s a portion of what yours truly said about D’Lo’s B/R ranking from this offseason.

"…Russell was moved from Brooklyn to Golden State. Suddenly, the perception of DLo changed from rising superstar finally realizing his potential to a high-usage, shoot-first, no-defense point guard putting up numbers on bad teams. Of course, had Steph Curry not been injured early in the 2019-20 campaign, things may have looked differently. Instead, Russell was forced to be what was essentially a one-man show on the worst team in the league, and his all-around game suffered because of it. At his best, Russell is a creative distributer with the ability to score from virtually anywhere on the court. He can dominate in the pick-and-roll and has developed limitless range with a quick trigger. Defense is still an issue, and if he wanted to take the next step offensively he’ll either need to add a couple of points to his 3-point shooting percentage or somehow start getting into the paint and drawing fouls more often."

Indeed, Russell is suffering from a swing in perceptions. He was overrated in 2018-19, and the course correction on that is suddenly criminally underrating the 2019 All-Star.

Indeed, is Tyler Herro (No. 59) better than Russell? The answer is no. The postseason run was fun and yes, he was a key rotation member on the Eastern Conference champs. But he isn’t better than D’Lo. Zach LaVine (No. 56)? Closer, but no.

There are a handful more that could at least make a case, but dropping Russell from No. 26 to No. 69 is absurd. He had essentially the same season offensively with a fraction of the help around him and was penalized 43 spots on the list based on his defense.

A ranking somewhere in the No. 40 to No. 50 range feels about right. But No. 69? Far too low. Now, it’s up to Russell to show that this ranking was bogus.

Let’s talk about Towns.