This is the piece where the Timberwolves need their most important players to perform to their highest abilities. Minnesota is navigating one of the toughest parts of its schedule with less than two weeks to play in the season, and needs every possible win to reach Denver to avoid the Western Conference play-offs.
And instead, it became D’Angelo Russell’s worst.
Russell was so well offensive after the all-star break and scored with consistency and efficiency. He played a major role in driving Minnesota’s offensive explosion. But that game did not last.
Over their last four games, the Wolves have played against the Mavericks, Suns, Mavericks and Celtics – four games against three top teams. They are 1-3 in those competitions. In that time, Russell averaged 10.8 points per game, with 34 percent from the field and 15 percent from deep.
In that period, the Wolves were outscored by 31 points with Russell on the floor. For reference, Minnesota outscored its opponents by six points with reserve point guard Jordan McLaughlin on the floor during the same time frame.
Certainly, the rest of the team was not spectacular in that piece either. By the obligation to set the table and tone in the biggest matches should fall on the shoulders of a team’s maximum-salary point guard, and Russell simply did not deliver as recently.
The reality is that players are struggling. Anthony Edwards has also had some tough issues this season. But he is 20 years old and in just his second NBA season. Edwards struggled knee-jerk reaction and improved his defensive game.
Russell – who is earning $ 30 million north this season – is not bringing enough elsewhere to the table to pick up on any offensive shortcomings. He usually gave the easiest defensive instruction with good reason. The rest of the team should generally compensate for Russell’s presence on the defensive side, which is more than good when the guard orchestrates the attack majestically and scorches the nets.
But if he is not, it can be difficult to win – especially when Minnesota is battling with the league’s top teams. Russell could not have chosen a much worse time to sink. The Wolves can survive poor play from their point guard against basement dwellers. Not so much against play-off caliber teams.
“It’s obviously a priority to try and get him going,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said after Minnesota’s blowout defeat in Boston on Sunday.
And so on. Realistically, the Wolves must win each of their next two tough road games – Wednesday in Toronto and Friday in Denver – if they want a serious chance of finishing among the top six in the West. And they will be heavily oppressed to do so without better play from their point guard.