12/3/2019 0 Comments
By: Dan Slaubaugh
We are just under two weeks away from Dec. 15 -- the date Golden State Warriors star guard D’Angelo Russell is eligible to be traded as he couldn’t be traded twice in the same offseason because he was acquired via a sign-and-trade deal.
If I may remind you, the Timberwolves lost out on the Russell sweepstakes this summer in a league-shocking acquisition by the Warriors who came swinging from the top rope and delivered a drop kick to Minnesota’s mid section by prying away what it thought was their point guard of the future.
The Wolves were all in on Russell. Many don’t realize the drastic sequences that took place to lead Russell to choose Golden State over Minnesota. In “largely believing they had a pathway to acquire D’Angelo Russell”, the Wolves — as rumors suggest -- had a trade mapped out to send Andrew Wiggins to Charlotte. That was Plan A. Plan B was to send Jeff Teague to Phoenix and attach a first to unload Gorgui Dieng's contract. Unfortunately, Charlotte used its money on Terry Rozier (3 years, $58 million) while Phoenix brought in former Wolf Ricky Rubio (who was Minnesota's Plan B!!) to conduct its offense, so the Wolves were left scrambling for other avenues.
Russell then saw money dwindling on the open market and subsequently took the max offer from Golden State instead of hoping the Wolves could clear money for him.
Basically, Minnesota tried really freaking hard to acquire KAT’s best friend, were willing to part ways with Andrew Wiggins, but came up short due to a shortage of funds. At one time, Russell even told KAT he was coming here -- hence the “loading” image KAT posted on Instagram.
This all leads us to the question at hand. Will the Wolves make another run at the 23-year old guard?
There are many smart people who believe Minnesota is going to, but this time around, it’s probable the thought process behind the potential proposal will be different.
There are many more questions to ask.
With Andrew Wiggins in the middle of a breakout season, flourishing with the ball in his hands due to an improved handle, would bringing in another ball handler interrupt his resurgence?
It can’t be overstated how huge Wiggins’ breakout is for the franchise. He has single-handedly made the retainment of Ryan Saunders look wise. He has propelled the team from a bottom four team in the West to a fringe playoff team with a foundation again. Most importantly, he has erased $27.5 million deadweight money off the payroll.
At his best as a primary ball handler, the Wolves could risk Wiggins — averaging career highs of 24.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 blocks per game on a career-best 46.2 percent from the field and a 51.7 effective field goal percentage -- returning to a form of his passive self by bringing in a playmaking point guard.
For example, we have to look no further than Jeff Teague. Wiggins often performs better when Teague is out, as he and the Wolves have no other choice but to give Wiggins the ball and let him go to work (yeah yeah I know KAT still lives but he doesn’t conduct the offense).
While Russell doesn’t dribble the air out of the ball as much as Teague, he still flourishes most with the rock in his hands -- as does Wiggs. If the Wolves have faith the two can play together, stay engaged off the ball and dominate the perimeter then it’s worth a shot.
The stats suggest it could work with the ball in Wiggins' hands. Given Wiggins’ ability to consistently drive and kick for corner threes, it’s important he’s passing to good shooters. Last year in Brooklyn, Russell shot 39.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes on 3.3 attempts per game. While that doesn’t alone indicate the two would be a good fit, it is a promising statistic.
Why you say? For starters, the ball should continue to run through Wiggins on the perimeter. You’re really going to make Wiggins adjust his game again when he’s finally producing like a real, legitimate all-star?
Ideally, Wiggins could perform as he is with a DLo type. If the Wolves get a few stand still shooters, it might maximize when Wiggins has the ball in his hands but doesn’t account for nights he is being locked down by a great defender, is having an off night or when he isn’t on the floor. They likely need another playmaker who can make plays himself when needed, score in the pick-and-roll with Towns AND shoot when he doesn’t have the ball.
However, with Wiggins and Towns, the Wolves have a foundation to build upon again. Given Wiggins’ resurgence and history of disappearing when he’s not the focal point of the offense, unintentionally asking him to take a step back in the offense could backfire.
If not Russell, than who?
Three things are true: 1) The Wolves shoot the fourth-most threes in the NBA (39.4 3PA), 2) They shoot the fourth-worst percentage from three in the NBA and 3) They currently give consistent minutes to five players who shoot 31 percent or worse on at least one catch-and-shoot three per game.
Minnesota literally employs a system that works directly against its personnel and still ranks a bad, but not terrible 20th in offensive rating (106.2).
Given their three-point happy offense, the Wolves getting shooters around Towns and Wiggins is, well, everything. It’s their new identity. Fun fact: they are on pace to shoot 871 more threes this year than last.
Instead of bringing in another max contract, it’s fair to suggest keeping Wiggins and setting their eyes on bringing in cheaper complementary pieces that fit around Wiggins and Towns is the logical move rather than capping out the roster by bringing in Russell. A free agent next summer, Brooklyn Nets sniper Joe Harris -- shooting 46.2 percent on catch-and-shoot threes — intrigues me as a great fit for the Wolves to throw $45 million over three years at.
If Rosas and co. believe Wiggins’ performance is the new norm, then he has to factor into the Wolves’ long-term plans as the primary perimeter scorer. If they have doubts about sustainability and think another scorer is necessary to build a contender, then they should attempt to pry away Russell from The Bay. That’s how the Wolves should prioritize this.
The championship question
The championship question perhaps is the most important. In bringing in Russell, the Wolves wouldn’t be making the move to make the playoffs but rather with a belief that their Big 3 can develop into a perennial title contender as they’d have little to no financial flexibility remaining with KAT, Wiggs, and DLo.
With Towns (24), Wiggins (24) and Russell (23), the Wolves would have a big three whose timelines fit perfectly with one another.
The Timberwolves’ interest in Russell is no secret and in a bottle, the trade makes sense. Towns wants him here. Robert Covington seems like the perfect Andre Iguodala replacement for the Warriors. While Wiggins has balled as a playmaker this year, they still need a long-term option at point guard.
However, and I recognize the incredibly small sample size, the Wolves boast the only duo outside of L.A. averaging more than 25 points per game. Wiggins is putting up career highs in points, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage. Towns is hitting 40 percent of his threes on nine attempts per game. The Wolves, for now, have a foundation again.
Bringing in Russell could work, but if I’m Rosas, I’d roll the dice on Wiggins continuing to improve alongside Towns (who Bill Simmons ranked the NBA’s 10th best player a few weeks ago) while retaining cap flexibility over giving up a plethora of assets to acquire a max contract who may not be an ideal fit.
With Jeff Teague ($19 million/year) off the books next summer and Gorgui Dieng ($16 million/year) the summer after that, Rosas will have an opportunity to surround Towns and Wiggins with valuable role players who fit the team.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I wouldn’t be upset if they did as it COULD work. But…
Because of the breakout of Mr. Wiggins, the Wolves would be wise to not trade for D’Angelo Russell.