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D’Angelo Russell’s poor finish to season further complicates Timberwolves’ offseason situation

Patrick Beverley conceded that Russell “could have ended better.”

NBA: Washington Wizards at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell (0) dribbles the ball before the game against the Washington Wizards on April 5 at Target Center in Minneapolis.
David Berding/USA TODAY Sports
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D’Angelo Russell, the man known for having “ice in his veins” — an ode to his clutch shot making — spent the most important minutes of the Timberwolves’ season on the bench.

Russell sat in favor of Jordan McLaughlin for the final five minutes of Minnesota’s Game 6 loss on Saturday at Target Center. That certainly wasn’t Russell’s preference. He noted Saturday that everyone wants to be in a position to do their job.

“Of course I want to be out there,” he said.

But he didn’t earn that opportunity. Not with his play Saturday, not with his play throughout the first-round series, and frankly not with his play over the past couple of months. Over his final 14 appearances of the regular season, Russell averaged just 13.4 points a game, shooting 37 percent from the floor and 29 percent from deep. Over the back portion of the season, Russell had the Timberwolves’ worst defensive rating and net rating.

Then came a dynamic play-in performance against the Los Angeles Clippers that helped Minnesota punch its playoff ticket. But that turned out to be a blip on the radar and not a precursor to playoff success. Russell averaged 12 points and nearly three turnovers per game in the first-round loss, shooting 33 percent from the field.

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“D-Lo had a great season for us, and he had a hard time settling into this series,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Sometimes it goes like that. Every series has its own personality. Had we been able to move on, matchup wise, etc., who knows, maybe he could’ve had a great series against Golden State. That’s just how it goes. That’s playoff basketball.”

Asked to assess his own playoff performance Saturday, Russell skirted the question, citing a lack of time between the season’s end and his exit interview.

“I don’t want to get up here and say nothing that is going to stick or give you guys a headline, speaking on the playoffs and my performance,” Russell said. “I haven’t had time to really think about it. So I’m going to save my piece on that.”

Patrick Beverley conceded that Russell “could have ended better.”

“Everyone felt that, he felt that. We need him a lot and, ya know, just one of those series,” Beverley said. “And it’s something he’s gonna learn from. I’ve been to the playoffs a lot. It’s something you can add for motivation, put that gasoline to the fire, whatever it may be. But a player like that, that much skill, you take that and he’s gonna get better with that and apply a lot of pressure next year.”

Finch and Sachin Gupta, the Timberwolves’ executive vice president of basketball operations, both publicly voiced support for Russell on Saturday. Though the max-salary player came up small over the last two months of the season, Finch said the Timberwolves “still think the fit is great.”

“His skill set, his playmaking, all that stuff hasn’t changed. We’ve just got to figure out maybe some different sets or structures that kind of accentuate those things, too,” Finch said. “I could’ve done a better job of trying to get him into the series a little bit more with some plays for him maybe off the ball. On the ball, he was drawing a pretty good amount of attention the way they were guarding him. Stuff like that made it hard. Looking back, I think that’s one thing I could’ve done a better job at for him.”

Because if Russell isn’t scoring, he’s not adding a ton of value. His defense was solid to start the season but drastically fell off over the second half of the season.

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Frankly, the “Big 3” of Russell, Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards never really got clicking in unison this season. Finch said the Wolves were closer to achieving that synergy late last season than it was this season. Edwards and Towns were more often paired together on the floor, while Russell saw a lot of time leading the bench unit.

That allowed Russell to have a higher usage when he was on the floor, while Edwards and Towns found more chemistry playing alongside one another. Meanwhile, Russell said his chemistry with Towns was “a little up and down.” There were many times where the fit just didn’t feel right.

Does Minnesota need a third ball-dominant player in its starting lineup? Or could the Wolves use another versatile defender who can get off the ball on offense and allow Minnesota to switch up its defensive schemes?

Russell certainly showed flashes this season. The play-in was one of those, as was his strong stretch of play immediately after the all-star break. When he was rolling, Minnesota’s offense was nearly unstoppable.

“I thought D-Lo had a great year. He has been a big part of the success that we had, and not just on the offensive end,” Gupta said. “I think he made big strides defensively, too, in the new scheme that coach implemented. It really took advantage of his strengths. We wouldn’t be here without his contributions. The play-In game, we wouldn’t have won that game without him. He’s been a big part of our success.”

On media day ahead of the season, Russell alluded to this season as a “contract year,” because he’s extension eligible this offseason with just one year remaining on the deal that’s paying him $30 million annually. It’s hard to say he did enough to warrant another big pay day this summer. After bringing up the topic back in September, Russell said he didn’t want to speak on the issue Saturday.

“It kind of comes back to haunt you a lot of times,” Russell said. “There’s nothing more that I can do to showcase my worth or the number that I’m looking for or anything like that. I would just rather not entertain myself with that until the time comes. Speaking on it now, it may haunt me at summer league. I just would rather not.”

The question is: If Minnesota — pressed up against the salary cap as it is — would “rather not” ink the point guard to a new deal, will he even be here come next fall?

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
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