Minnesota Timberwolves: Towns and Russell proving to be dynamic duo

D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
D'Angelo Russell, Minnesota Timberwolves (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

Not much has gone right for the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. At 14-40, they’re tied with the Houston Rockets for the worst record in the NBA. COVID-19, Injuries, a midseason coaching change, and roster construction have all played a role in Minnesota’s lost season.

Well, things are starting to look up on the court after beating the Chicago Bulls 121-117 on Sunday. The Wolves are 2-2 since star guard D’Angelo Russell returned from a knee injury that required surgery and sidelined him for 26 games.

In his first four games under Chris Finch, Russell is lighting up the Target Center. The former all-star is averaging 23.8 points per game, five assists, and three rebounds while shooting 41.4 percent from three.

While Russell has been playing some of the most efficient basketball of his career, the key to sustaining success in Minnesota is his play alongside his longtime friend Karl-Anthony Towns. The first and second overall picks in the 2015 NBA draft have only played nine games together since President of Basketball Operations Gersson Rosas traded Andrew Wiggins and a protected 2021 first-round pick to Golden State for Russell more than a year ago.

In the eight games the dynamic duo has shared the court for this season the Timberwolves are a respectable 4-4 with wins against the Pistons, Jazz, Kings, and Bulls. The two have shared the court for 166 minutes this season and in that time the Wolves score 119.6 points per 100 possessions with a plus – 4.9 net rating. Those numbers improve to 131.9 and 10.1 respectively in their four shared games under Finch.

To put those numbers in perspective the three-headed offensive monster in Brooklyn of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving has played 186 minutes together across seven games with an offensive rating of 122.4 and a plus – 8.4 net rating.

It’s a small sample size, but it’s starting to look like the pairing of KAT and DLo might dare I say, actually work pretty well. It helps when you look at how dominant Towns has been since his running mate returned to the lineup. Since Russell’s return Towns is averaging 28 points, 12.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists on 52.8 percent shooting, and 44 percent from three on 6.3 attempts per game. Those are MVP numbers if you were to extrapolate them out over an entire season.

So what are Towns and Russell doing to make the Wolves a surprisingly competitive team of late?

It starts with shooting. We know Towns and Russell are both top-flight shooters in the NBA for their positions. In the last four games, they are a combined 23-for-54 from three (42.5 percent) and working the pick-and-pop game to perfection.

Along with the inability to miss from distance over the last week, Russell and Towns are getting to the line more often. Russell is shooting six free throws per contest over the last four, as opposed to his season average of 3.7, while Towns has upped his attempts from 5.7 to 6.8 in the same timeframe.

Chris Finch is also unlocking the full potential of the offense by unleashing KAT’s full passing arsenal. Towns’ 6.5 assists per game over the last four is a huge increase from his season average of 4.6 and career average of 2.9. The improved passing from the seven-footer allows Russell to spot up and hit open shots. He’s scoring 1.28 points per possession on spot-up jumpers this season, placing him in the 93rd percentile.

The offense is buzzing with Towns and Russell on the court, but the big problem with this duo going forward will always be on the defensive end. Minnesota’s defensive rating with both on the court this year is 114.7, which is the same as the team’s overall defensive rating, good for 27th in the NBA. That number drops to 121.8 over their last four games as the team has played at a much faster pace since Russell’s return.

While Towns and Russell are slowly but surely proving those who are skeptical that these two can function at a high level together wrong, the key to all of this is how they play with rookie phenom Anthony Edwards.

Edwards broke out while Russell was out, and the offense has been insane with the three young stars on the court since Russell’s return. The trio is scoring a mind-numbing 139.5 points per 100 in 51 minutes together in the past four games, with a plus – 11.5 net rating.

The worry was how could Russell and Edwards coexist in the same backcourt, and that question has seemingly been answered, albeit in a smaller sample size.

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With Chris Finch at the helm and Russell, Towns, and now Edwards playing their best basketball of the season, the Timberwolves seem to be in a much better place heading into the offseason than most fans thought when Russell went down and Saunders was fired. If Finch can keep making adjustments and finding more ways to make sure each star compliments the other, this team could become an offensive juggernaut sooner rather than later.