Timberwolves have a decision to make with D’Angelo Russell
Through 13 games, Russell is shooting 37.7% from the field and 30% from deep.
MEMPHIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves coach Chris Finch finally hit breaking point Friday in Memphis.
The Timberwolves were on defense and trailing the Grizzlies by 11 points with five minutes to play. D’Angelo Russell was defending Grizzlies forward Santi Aldama, a general non-factor on offense, who was standing in the corner. Russell was sagging far off Aldama, potentially thinking he would be in a better help position.
But as the possession ensued, Russell entirely lost sight of his man. Aldama cut behind him and was hit for an easy alley-oop to grow Memphis’ lead to 13. Finch, who watched Aldama’s cut take place right in front of him, threw his arms to the sky and immediately pointed to Jordan McLaughlin to enter the game for the first time in the second half.
“Just was looking for defense, somebody who could get into the paint, just trying things at this point in time,” Finch said after the game.
The defense is the major sticking point. Memphis was obviously targeting Russell at various points in Friday’s game. When Russell was guarding sharpshooter Desmond Bane, the Grizzlies ran Bane off a number of screens that inevitably led to open looks. Russell was eventually moved onto Dillon Brooks, and Brooks subsequently waltzed to the rim for a layup.
Minnesota has a number of issues at the moment that extend far beyond Russell’s play, but the point guard is certainly a part of the problem. Through 13 games, Russell is shooting 37.7% from the field and 30% from deep. Those struggles make it hard to justify playing time for the guard, given his defensive deficiencies and the fact Russell is currently 18th worst in the NBA in turnover percentage (18.4%).
Russell also was the guy who failed to realize which player he was checking in for Wednesday against Phoenix, leading to Minnesota playing a possession 5 on 4, with the Suns burying a three-pointer as Russell remained at the scorer’s table.
Throughout the rough stretch, Finch has continued to say Russell needs to maintain confidence in his game. Russell himself has said he’s in a shooting “slump.” That can be used to write off the first 13 games of this season, but it becomes more difficult to stomach when considering Russell’s poor play over the final two months of last season.
There was a reason Russell was benched at the end of Game 6 of last year’s first-round playoff series loss to Memphis.
Evidence is mounting that perhaps a change needs to be made. Kyle Anderson played a fair amount of point guard Friday. Finch said he hasn’t mapped out the number of minutes he would like to have Anderson running the offense but added it’s “something we’ve been trying and wanting to do more of.”
“Thought he looked pretty good out there,” Finch said of Anderson.
And then there’s McLaughlin, who has been effective for Minnesota, yet played just eight minutes Friday.
Finch said Thursday he wasn’t yet looking at a change to Minnesota’s starting lineup. It’s likely the coach didn’t want to push any buttons too early in the season. But Minnesota has now lost six of its last seven games, so change could be warranted, regardless of how it would look in terms of optics or how feelings would be affected.
Last season, it was a starting lineup swap — moving Patrick Beverley into the first five — that played a role in sparking the Timberwolves into the playoffs.
And if a change is to be made, Finch may have tipped his hand as to what it will be.
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