Healthy D'Angelo Russell boosting play of Wolves bench

Kent Youngblood, Star Tribune
·3 min read

Having a now-healthy D'Angelo Russell coming off the bench is one reason the Wolves reserves have done well of late. In Wednesday's loss in Sacramento, the Wolves bench had a 58-36 edge in points over the Kings' reserves.

Here's another big reason: Naz Reid, backup to Karl-Anthony Towns at center. Averaging 11.2 points and 4.6 rebounds for the season, in April those numbers have risen to 12.4 points and 5.3 rebounds. After inconsistent play in losses to Milwaukee and Brooklyn, Wolves coach Chris Finch said he challenged Reid to do better.

Since then? In four subsequent games Reid is averaging 15.8 points and shooting nearly 60% overall. Wednesday he scored 24 points, with 12 coming in the third quarter, during which the Wolves turned a 11-point halftime deficit into a three-point lead entering the fourth.

"I love skilled bigs,'' Finch said after practice Friday. "He's a lot like KAT. You can play him all over the floor. He's a really willing and good passer, as well as scorer. He can score at the rim, he can make a three. These guys are just luxuries to have.''

Finch said the coaching staff is working with Reid on expanding his game. "We've asked him to start rolling more,'' Finch said. "He's given us a dynamic that we desperately need.''

Small sample sizeThe Wolves are 4-6 since Russell returned to action. In that time he and Towns have given fans — and Finch — a glimpse of what they can be together. Even though the numbers aren't great — Russell and Towns have a net rating south of minus-12 in the time they've spent together on the floor — Finch said he has seen some good things.

"Two high-IQ players who like to pass, make their teammates better, make each other better,'' Finch said. "They really complement each other well. Neither of them are going to be really sped up by the pace; they're doing a great job of playing at the pace we would like overall. And, as far as the sample size, we always want to see more, because then we can continue to work with them creativity-wise."

It has been difficult to see how a full Wolves roster can function together. Russell, Towns ands Malik Beasley all have fought through injuries. Most recently, Beasley has been out with a hamstring injury that could keep him out the rest of the season.

"We've seen how impactful they can be,'' Finch said of Towns and Russell. "Particularly closing games. The game the other day [the Wolves' loss to Sacramento] I thought we did some good things we didn't benefit from. We've been closing games pretty well, and they've been a big reason for that.''

A productive AprilIn 10 games since his return, Russell is averaging 24.6 minutes a game off the bench, shooting 47.4 % overall, 44.4 % on three-pointers.

He is scoring 19 points per game with four games over 20, three of which were Wolves victories. Finch said he liked the way Russell is shooting.

"He's doing a really good job of getting his shots in the flow of the offense,'' Finch said. "He has the green like to break free, do what he feels he needs to do at any point in time. He can make tough shots, contested shots. That's a bonus, but that's not something you want to survive on.''

Transition defense woesFinch's assessment of his team's defense down the stretch of Wednesday's loss in Sacramento, in which the Wolves allowed 26 points in the final six minutes and were outscored 7-0 to end the game: "When we got up 11 [mid-fourth quarter] we got undisciplined in transition defense. An 11-point lead became a five-point lead and then it was game on.''