The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the mix for the playoffs – a level they’ve reached once in the past 17 seasons – and D’Angelo Russell is an important reason why so far.
Russell’s shooting numbers are down overall compared to years past, but he’s stepped up for Minnesota when it matters most. Russell leads the league in clutch points, which are points scored in the last five minutes of the game where the score differential is five points or less.
“He wants the ball,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s not afraid to take big shots. He can handle and get to his spot. He’s got almost an unblockable shot with a lot of arc.”
Finch, who’s the first coach Russell has had for consecutive seasons since Kenny Atkinson in Brooklyn, calls his point guard an “absolute joy” to coach and refers to him as a “basketball junkie.” Finch laughed, reminiscing about how Russell texted him about the team while watching a game between the Pacers and Pistons on a random Tuesday off night.
In his return to Brooklyn, where Russell became an All-Star, he spoke with HoopsHype about the expectations for Minnesota, Patrick Beverley’s impact on the team, playing for Finch, his career thus far, and more.
Russell: It’s good to get the opportunity to see it. We’re healthy. Not being on the court is not our excuse anymore. It’s been good for us to get on the court and be able to showcase what we’re capable of.
Russell: I like our approach. We’ve got a nice group of guys that come in ready every day and every practice. We’ve got a good complement of some older guys and some younger guys. It meshes well. We’ve got a player’s coach. That’s just the cherry on top. It’s been a good run so far these first 20 games.
Russell: It’s too soon.
Russell: Honestly, he gets respect from the referees. I think that’s one thing that allows us to go into the game feeling like we can win a game. We know we have a player that’s respected by the referees and has credibility from his experiences around the league. His voice too. He voices his opinion on a lot of things. He’s not letting a lot of things slide under the radar if he disagrees. If he does disagree, he’ll find a solution. I think that’s the beauty of having somebody like him. He’s going to tell you. There will be a positive that comes out of it from genuine interactions.
Russell: It’s been amazing. Having a coach for two years has been a challenge for me. Having him last year and going into this year knowing that we’ve got some stability that we can build off going into this grind.
Russell: I try to make the right play. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think about trying to be that guy. I have the ball in my hand and try to make the right play and continue to build the trust of my coach and teammates that I’ll make the right play.
Russell: It’s the best job in the world. It’s hard to win in this league, so if you dictate your career off winning and losing, it’s going to be a tough roller coaster, but I don’t. I’m living the dream. Six months on, six months off. I can’t complain.
Russell: It’s one of those things I couldn’t really control, so I don’t really have any feelings towards it. I try to protect my sanity by controlling what I can control. I couldn’t control that. I never could, so I don’t really care.
Russell: It helped me with some individual accolades, being an All-Star, and making it to the playoffs for the first time. I met a great group of guys. I think that was bigger than anything. Some of the veteran guys I met on that team I still keep in contact with and talk to daily. I still bounce things off those guys that have nothing to do with basketball. I think those relationships will help my career more than anything?