February 11th is national “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk Day.” It’s an actual thing, I’m not joking. Go look it up.
Ironically, two days before then is the NBA trade deadline; the second time in the NBA calendar year that will undoubtedly see the Minnesota Timberwolves active during a high-pressure avenue of swapping players.
During that time, fans will be just as active with wartime flashbacks of the pre-fourth of July megadeal that many at the time thought would be the key to unlocking a 50-win season.
What is the Main Thing We’re Surprised About?
In my personal opinion, the Monday game against the Utah Jazz, in which Walker Kessler put together a 20-20 game, was not incredibly surprising, outside of the the actual result of the game that the Wolves easily could have come away with.
Kessler is a skilled big who doubles as a mountain. He’s huge. Even with Gobert, the Wolves are a team that struggle with rebounding the basketball. Now what happens when you trot out your 3rd and 4th centers who aren’t any taller than 6-foot-10?
Kessler and the Jazz did exactly what Brandon Clarke and the Grizzlies did to a larger degree in every way on Monday. They were downright outmatched on the glass.
In the two games Gobert has played against the Jazz this year, he’s pulled down 23 and 13 boards respectively, adding 22 points to the 13 boards on the second go-around in Utah. Kessler put up a double-single in both games.
The Wolves didn’t want to include Walker Kessler in the Rudy Gobert trade, but the Jazz lobbied for him, @Tjonesonthenba writes.— The Athletic NBA (@TheAthleticNBA) January 17, 2023
It’s probably safe to say nobody thought the rookie would be this good, this fast.https://t.co/D5vMR8tMXx pic.twitter.com/gGNLu12whu
I’m going to be clear in saying that by no means am I putting my foot down and saying the Wolves won the Gobert trade by any stretch of the imagination. Kessler would be an awesome addition to Minnesota in being able to deploy different defensive looks and adapt to personnel. His salary is relatively a blip on the radar, and the Jazz look to have gotten an excellent piece.
BUT I just think the narrative game has gotten a little out of control with this “1 for 1” idea, especially since Kessler is mainly used in matchup-based scenarios, and has struggled against the Wolves when they do indeed have their interior intact, and not patch-working looks together in order to hang on for dear life.
The lion’s share of the last 15+ years for this franchise has been praying on ping pong balls to pull this team up to the fringe of the western conference playoff hunt. There’s no doubt they should be higher than they currently are given the expectations. And now that they’ve gone against that flow and have a clear franchise player, I give automatic favor to that until given blatant reason to prove otherwise. Up until now, it’s been a game of point/counterpoint.
The trade could end up being an objective abomination when all of the assets have been accounted for, picks have been made, etc. But in the case that the sample of the last 10 games becomes more of a reality and turns the team into more of a sustained winner with a blueprint, Kessler becoming a Brook Lopez type really doesn’t bother me all that much. I might be in the minority there. But in order for that sentiment to continue to happen, the recent stretch of wins that saw Gobert take over the paint and look statistically more like himself cannot just be a fever dream.
TL;DR - try to move into the “acceptance” phase of the grief cycle.
Among the copious amount of banter around trades, D’Angelo Russell’s comes up a lot. I even wrote that I think his time in Minnesota might be coming to an end.
But he’s been objectively good over the last month. And after his clutch-time performance against the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night raised a great quote from Head Coach Chris Finch, detailed yesterday in our recap.
“The key was allowing other to create his shots for him,” Finch detailed. “Whenever that’s happened, he’s shot the ball really well, and not having to go create all of his own offense.”
And the shooting spike off that is no coincidence. Russell now shoots the second most catch and shoot threes per game, only behind Karl-Anthony Towns. On 3.5 catch and shoot three-point attempts per game, Russell is shooting 37%; his best mark since the 2021-21 season.
Kyle Anderson when asked about D'Angelo Russell's 4th quarter shot-making tonight:— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) January 20, 2023
“It’s like, you seen Bad Boys 2, when they like ‘From now on, that’s how you shoot!’ I’d say when he’s knocking down shots like that, that’s the Lo we know and the Lo we love."
But that’s the most frustrating part. My often-issue with Russell is the same thing Finch identified; how he can sometimes tend to play keepaway and proactively stagnate the offense when he can be much more effective off the ball and create offense from there. If what happened against Toronto can be more of a rule than an exception, it may not be a certainty that he’s packing his bags come the deadline.
The interesting conundrum is how that’s addressed when the highest-volume catch-and-shoot player in Karl-Anthony Towns returns. But until then, we can only pontificate.