Minnesota Timberwolves: D’Angelo Russell flashes two-way upside

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

Despite the Minnesota Timberwolves falling to a narrow loss against the Denver Nuggets, point guard D’Angelo Russell continued to display his improved attitude towards defense. Perhaps it’s the Patrick Beverley effect? Or maybe Russell has finally figured out how he can utilize his speed and size to pressure opposing ball-handlers? Whatever the catalyst, against the Nuggets, Russell hustled his way through 31 minutes of playing time, while still being a force on the offensive end.

Defensive impact is always the hardest thing to quantify. You can look at the +/- of a game and make certain assertations, but in truth, single-game numbers such as these are incredibly flawed as a metric. The truth is, defensive is far more team-centric than offense, it requires all players moving in tandem, helping at the right time and recovering when the ball is swung.

Yet, while it’s difficult to monitor defensive impact, especially over a small sample size, it’s quite easy to measure defensive effort. According to NBA Stats, Russell was an active participant on defense against the Nuggets, recording 10 shot contests and three deflections – the only two players who produced more in the “hustle” category were Karl Anthony-Towns and Naz Reid.

We already know that Russell is an effective guard on offense, we’ve seen as much since he entered the franchise.

But without a good defensive presence, the numbers you score are somewhat empty. A notion the whole team seems to share this year, as they have embraced the defensive pressure Chris Finch has been calling for.

We seldom hear the phrase “two-way guard,” primarily because guards usually don’t possess the physical tools to be a defensive factor.  Yet, standing at 6’5′, Russell is capable of both clogging passing lanes, and operating as a point-of-attack defensive piece, and should he continue to fill the hustle charts on a nightly basis, his defensive impact will become more prominent as the season wears on.

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It’s still early in the season, but Russell has started with his best foot forward, for both himself and the team. If the guard out of Louisville can continue to affect the game on both ends of the floor, then the Timberwolves can continue dreaming of reaching the playoffs at the end of the regular season.