The Timberwolves need more from D'Angelo Russell

The Wolves haven't gotten what they expected since making a blockbuster trade.
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D'Angelo Russell / Minnesota Timberwolves

Last February, the Timberwolves made a trade they thought would get them out of the NBA's cellar. By sending Andrew Wiggins and his massive contract to Golden State, the Wolves swapped to get D'Angelo Russell to form a franchise-changing duo along with Karl-Anthony Towns.

As the first anniversary of that deal approaches, the Timberwolves haven't gotten a return on that investment. Instead of being one of the leaders on this team, Russell has sunk into the nonchalant malaise that has plagued so many players in franchise history.

That's not much for Russell, however, who is having a strong season statistically. The 24-year-old is averaging 20.5 points per game to go with 5.5 assists per game. Both marks are down from his 2019-20 season marks (23.1 PPG, 6.3 APG), but for a team that has struggled to find a point guard, those numbers play well in this system.

As far as a team standpoint, that's where Russell seems to be in trouble. When Towns went down with a dislocated wrist and then was diagnosed with COVID-19, the reasonable expectation is for Russell to play well enough to keep the Timberwolves at .500.

Instead, the Timberwolves have completely fallen apart with Towns on the shelf. When Towns has sat out, the Wolves have put together a 2-9 record. Part of this has been Minnesota's lack of depth in the frontcourt, but there's something to be said about Russell's effort when looking at the past three games.

On Jan. 20, the Timberwolves got off to a strong start against the Orlando Magic. A lot of this was because of the play of Russell, who was playing lockdown defense and poured in 15 points including four three-pointers to help Minnesota build a 16-point lead at halftime.

But getting out to big leads in the first half hasn't been the problem for the Timberwolves. They need closers. They need leaders that step up and say "We're not losing this game."

In this instance, Russell followed the rest of his team looking at the tunnel and hoping Towns would come running out of it. Russell scored four points in the second half and the Magic came roaring back to win on a Cole Anthony buzzer-beater.

Two nights later, the Wolves had to shake off the hangover against a similar opponent in the Atlanta Hawks. Russell would not be part of that movement either, scoring nine points and committing four fouls before Ryan Saunders shut him down after 21 minutes.

As Russell sat on the bench, his counterpart Trae Young dropped 43 on the Timberwolves as they were clown-hammered 116-98.

The following night, Russell stayed on the bench as part of a scheduled rest night. Again, this was after Russell had a valiant effort in a grueling 21-minute performance against the Hawks, but the Timberwolves felt obligated to stick to their plan.

If the Timberwolves were in the thick of a playoff chase, nobody would bat an eye. Instead, the Timberwolves are 4-11 (after winning without Russell on Saturday night, by the way) and aren't in a position to tank like they've done for a majority of their existence.

That's because the Wolves also sent their 2021 first-round pick to Golden State to acquire Russell. Instead of having a shot at landing a hometown superstar like Jalen Suggs, the Wolves could be watching him extend the Warriors dynasty by replacing Klay Thompson.

This isn't to say the Wolves' struggles have been completely Russell's fault. They have gotten almost nothing from frontcourt duo Juancho Hernangomez and Jake Layman and his supporting cast haven't performed to what they expected coming into the season.

However, Russell is entrusted to be a leader on this team. As of right now, he's just another player going through the motions.

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