/Breaking Down DAngelo Russell, Andrew Wiggins Fits After Blockbuster Trade

Breaking Down DAngelo Russell, Andrew Wiggins Fits After Blockbuster Trade

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 23:  D'Angelo Russell #0 of the Golden State Warriors is fouled by Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves at Chase Center on December 23, 2019 in San Francisco, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In what turned out to be a very busy trade deadline, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors stole the show. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Wolves brought in D’Angelo Russell, Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman. In return, the Warriors got Andrew Wiggins, a top-three-protected 2021 draft pick (becomes unprotected in 2022 if it doesn’t convey in 2021) and a 2021 second-round pick. 

The Warriors also slid under the tax this year. John Hollinger of The Athletic wrote that they could have had “$50 million in repeater penalties” next year had they not gotten below the tax line. That should allow them to take on more salary in the offseason.  

The Wolves have long coveted Russell. They just missed out on him in free agency last summer when he was signed-and-traded to the Warriors. They’ve never stopped their pursuit of him and finally have their guy.

But this is more than just a basketball trade. It is also about keeping frustrated star Karl-Anthony Towns happy.

After losing to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, Towns told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic: “I’ve been losing for a long time. I’m not trying to do that s–t anymore. So every possession means a lot. You obviously see my patience running low with a lot of things. There’s no excuses. We gotta get it done.” 

Is this a good idea for either team? Let’s dig in.

                 

Why Wiggins Fits Better with Warriors than Russell 

It never felt like Russell was in the Warriors’ long-term plans. His game never fit with coach Steve Kerr’s system. Russell is mostly a pick-and-roll guard, while the Warriors value more off-ball movement for their offense. This seemed like a marriage of convenience with a short life span. 

Wiggins has four years and $122 million left on his deal and has yet to fully live up to his potential. The Warriors are betting that a change of scenery and their culture can help him realize that potential. 

Wiggins has shown flashes of turning the corner this season. He is averaging career highs in rebounds with 5.2 and assists with 3.7 per game. He has brought his scoring up from 18.1 last season to 22.4 this season. 

Minnesota primarily used Wiggins as a pick-and-roll ball-handler with mediocre results. When he initiated a pick-and-roll the Wolves averaged 0.92 points per possession, which is just below league average.

The Warriors won’t use Wiggins the same way the Wolves did. They can take advantage of his length and athleticism the way they did with Harrison Barnes. 

As a Warrior, Barnes was a spot-up shooter, off-ball cutter and occasional post-up option. He was a pick-and-roll ball-handler only 4.4 percent of the time during his last season in Golden State. 

Though Wiggins doesn’t fit quite as well as Barnes did overall, which I’ll explain later, he should fit the Warriors’ offensive style better than Russell. Last year, according to Synergy Sports, the Warriors ran pick-and-rolls 10.8 percent of the time, their fourth-most used offensive play. They lived in the transition, spot-up and off-screen game, and, just after pick-and-rolls, scoring off cuts was fifth. All of these are in Wiggins’ wheelhouse.

Wiggins’ most efficient play is the off-ball cut, at 1.53 points per possession, but he’s been in that action for a small sample size of 55 possessions. Expect the frequency to climb as he plays in the Warriors system. 

B/R

Wiggins is not quite the spot-up shooter Barnes was when he was with the Warriors. When a fully healthy Golden State squad is on the floor, he will get a lot more open shots. Slotting him as a third option should allow him to go up against easier defenders.

Defense is where the Barnes comparison ends. When Wiggins was on the court this season for the Wolves, they had a defensive rating of 111.8, and it improved to 104.9 when he was off. 

Barnes was able to defend several positions including in the post, which let the Warriors go to their deadly small-ball lineup.

Playing with better defenders will help, though. Klay Thompson will always take on the tougher perimeter assignments, and Draymond Green will continue to quarterback the defense, but Wiggins will need to make a leap defensively. 

He is in the 12th percentile in defending pick-and-rolls and spot-ups this season. Smaller guards like De’Aaron Fox blow by him with ease, and he has a habit of dying on screens like he did against the Clippers in this clip.

B/R

That type of defensive effort will not fly in Golden State. 

The Warriors are hoping that a winning environment with Curry, Thompson and Green will unlock the enigma that is Wiggins. 

        

Wolves View

The Wolves have been in a tailspin after a quick start to the season. They suffered an 11-game losing streak in December and are currently on a 13-game losing streak. A change needed to be made, and they made plenty. 

Bringing in Russell gives Towns a true pick-and-roll partner. Dribbling off screens, Russell is a threat to pull up for three or use some crafty moves to get in the lane to get his shot off. 

Russell’s scoring ability out of the pick-and-roll will force defenses to play up on him as he comes off screens. That’s where his vision and passing come into play, allowing him to find the roller. 

The Russell and Towns combo should open the offense for the Wolves. Towns’ ability to pop or roll is the perfect complement to Russell’s pick-and-roll game.

B/R

The Wolves will almost certainly continue to be a heavy spread pick-and-roll team, and they’ll rely on Russell and Towns to carry the load. 

But there are a lot of question marks defensively with this pairing. Russell has never been a plus defender. Towns has shown he can be a very good defensive anchor, but his dedication to it has never lasted longer than a few weeks. 

In his five seasons in the NBA, Russell has had a defensive rating below 110 only once.  

Season

Defensive Rating

19-20

114.1

18-19

107.9

17-18

112.4

16-17

114.3

15-16

110.1

*NBA.com/stats

Russell has a tendency to get stuck ball-watching and lose his man on the weak side. Here, he loses Doug McDermott, who cuts to the top of the three-point arc for an easy look. Russell gives up 1.27 points per possession off spot-ups; that is in the 7th percentile in the league. 

B/R

Adding Russell means Towns will also have to improve defensively. When he is on the court, the Wolves have a defensive rating of 115.3. When he is off, it’s 103.9. That’s both the worst on-court number and differential he’s ever posted.

The only way this trade will work is if the Wolves’ two young stars show effort on the defensive end and can jell together on offense in the pick-and-roll game. 

Both the Wolves and the Warriors made big moves that they hope will pay huge dividends for them next season and beyond. 

            

Mo Dakhil spent six years with the Los Angeles Clippers and two years with the San Antonio Spurs as a video coordinator, as well as three years with the Australian men’s national team. Follow him on twitter @MoDakhil_NBA