Where do you even begin?
The last time I wrote an in-season roundup, I explored the idea of what “average” was for the 2021-22 Minnesota Timberwolves.
With hindsight being 20/20, why did I even take my time to approach that topic for this team?
It was all over the place. But man, was it a breath of fresh air from the ghosts of season’s past. To provide context on the weirdness, is there another time we can remember the Wolves giving half a season of top-ten defense, then advanced stat-wise, shifting the breadth of its production seemingly on a whim to the other side of the ball?
“Even our mistakes are exciting” was an accurate theme from Chris Finch all year. But now with a playoff series in the past that left supporters wanting more, for the first time in the longest, it’s time to sustainably build a winner and rally around the positives drawn from the high-stakes, high-pressure situations over the last couple of weeks.
Rule of Thirds?
I’ll touch on D’Angelo Russell in a little bit, but I wanted to start off by combining him with Malik Beasley. Together, both players made up roughly a third of the Wolves’ payroll this season.
During the regular season, I would see absolutely no problem with this. The Wolves were seemingly unbeatable when Beasley was on from deep, and D-Lo’s continued facilitation and ability to find space on the perimeter made for one of the best seasons of his career.
But the other side of that coin is 33% of the payroll refusing to show up when the games continue to matter more and more. Beasley finished the series shooting 32% from deep, and averaged less than nine points, mostly carried by his series-opening 23. In games two through six, he cracked double digits again just once; including a zero and two-point game in games four and six, respectively.
Ja Morant's poster on Malik Beasley is basketball art pic.twitter.com/yfwYXLlqZz— SB Nation (@SBNation) April 27, 2022
Russell’s struggles are better documented, highlighted by his game six fourth-quarter benching when the season was on the line. I won’t beat a dead horse, because his case is already on the radar of the national media heading into the offseason...
D’Angelo Russell…. Welcome to the Summer 2022 Trade Machine!— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) April 30, 2022
Call me crazy, an optimist, a hopeless basketball romantic, but I actually think the Wolves are in an advantageous position with Russell heading into the offseason. Sifting through social media over the last couple days, I think it’s pretty fair to say there’s two sides of the coin in where people stand. I’ll task myself in coming up with a positive spin for both.
“Trade Him Now!”
Russell had a legitimately impactful regular season on winning. No, he is not a max player, but he is absolutely not a sunk contract. I think he warrants a positive return because of two things:
- NBA teams are always in need of shotmaking guards. D-Lo is just entering his prime and was measurably the best player in the clutch for Minnesota this season.
- His 31-million dollar contract that ends after 2022-23 is exactly what it is; expiring. Expiring max money on a good player? Doesn’t sound too bad...
“Keep Him/Start the season with him!”
I think both of these sides have points that can be intertwined, and multiple things can be true at once. But based on comments he made when he first got to Minnesota, D-Lo values the idea of being wanted somewhere. That’s just one thing he seems to care about.
I think almost every Wolves fan at this point can agree that he’s not a max player. He has the ability to make big shots, but careless turnovers and failure to move the ball at a consistent clip are clear knocks that he needs to overcome. In other words, the ball gets sticky when he’s in the game for too long.
D’Angelo Russell vs. Jordan McLaughlin Playmaking:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) April 30, 2022
Based on overall assist %, D’Lo was an outstanding creator this season, while Jordan McLaughlin was slightly below-average.
However, J-Mac blew D’Lo out of the water as a drive-and-kick passer.
A fascinating contrast. pic.twitter.com/i4RRKfO3qj
Why am I bringing these things up? While he has some visible warts, he still has an incredibly complimentary skillset to KAT and Ant, and IF he accepts his place on the totem pole of the roster, a fine tuning of this could make this team spin like a top offensively (yes, even more than it already does). His contract is up after next year, and if a longer-term deal is what he’s seeking, a potential expression of what his ceiling looks like over these last 2.5 years could force him down off the mid to high-20s/year conversation. A very legitimate argument could be made that that is a win for the Wolves.
Before any of that happens in the future, it’s decision time this summer for Sachin Gupta on Russell, and a time to ideate on what Malik Beasley’s role looks like moving forward, or where he’s going to be heading into next season. One thing is certain - you cannot continue to proceed with that chunk of money as status-quo.
Welcome to your close-up, 2020 Draft Class! (except Bolmaro)
So yeah, pretty much Ant and Jaden. McDaniels was pretty brutal in a couple games against Memphis, but made everyone forget with the game six he had. I write this incredibly excited for what McDaniels brings to future teams. I think there’s still some room for work on his creation and ability to get to the paint on his own, but damn I feel like there's a point where he’s going to be able to do everything.
Jaden McDaniels says the biggest thing for him this summer is improving his on-ball game and adding some weight.— Jack Borman (@jrborman13) April 30, 2022
He feels confident in adding PnR ball-handling and off-catch attacks to his bag - it'd be a huge addition for the Wolves' offense
Oh and working out with Kawhi Leonard certainly won’t hurt. McDaniels has the ability to be a star, and build it from the ground up on defense. Am I crazy to think that if he’s able to keep adding “men strength” as Finch calls it, that he can be the full-time four? Maybe a long shot, but wow that floor spacing would be scary.
And Ant? Thank you for your service.
Anthony Edwards in his first career playoffs:— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 30, 2022
40.4 3P% on 9.5 3PA
Most total points EVER by a player in a playoff series before turning 21. pic.twitter.com/vUG6vz1bwE
That’s the guy. He’s arrived.
Questions obviously loom. What will Sachin Gupta do with D-Lo, Beasley, and players like Taurean Prince with expiring money? And will it be Gupta making the decisions? My only answer is this:
Buckle up. We have ourselves a winner, (that actually travelled with each other after getting eliminated) with a cornerstone that can’t even legally drink yet.