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D’Angelo Russell felt ‘held back’ by the Minnesota Timberwolves

D'Angelo Russell Timberwolves
(Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

D’Angelo Russell felt ‘held back’ by the Minnesota Timberwolves

After a tumultuous start to the 2022-23 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers completely re-booted the fringes of their roster around the trade deadline. One of those moves was acquiring guard D’Angelo Russell, on an expiring contract, from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Russell wasn’t having a bad season for Minnesota at the time of the trade, but the team-wide dynamic alongside Karl-Anthony Towns (who missed most of the season due to injury) and newly acquired Rudy Gobert felt questionable, at best.

He recently opened up with The Athletic‘s Sam Amick about the end of his tenure in Minnesota, highlighting the differences in his night-to-night between the Lakers and Wolves.

“I felt like I was held back there, honestly,” he said. “I just kind of had to be the third option. Some nights, I was a little more aggressive and was kind of being held back. So to be in a position now where I can kind of thrive and be aggressive and it gets guys going, and where the team reflects off of anybody with that type of energy, it’s fun.”

In his 33 games in Minnesota without Towns available this season, he was one of their foremost scoring options. Russell averaged 20.2 points on 48.5 percent shooting — including 42.5 percent from 3-point range — in addition to 2.9 rebounds and 5.9 assists. In 54 games with the Wolves, he averaged 17.9 percent shooting and 6.2 assists on 46.5/39.1/85.6 shooting splits (60.4 TS%).

“I’m a killer, man. I’m a bird that needs to fly, and I couldn’t really fly there,” Russell said. “They put me in a box that I was successful in … I had to kind of cater to guys. And respectfully, I was with it because we were winning. But I know what type of player I am.”

In reality, Russell is also the Lakers’ tertiary option offensively, but some nights could be tasked with garnering the Lakers’ lead scoring production, depending on the flow of the game, like he was in Minnesota.

In Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Golden State Warriors Saturday, Russell scored nine of the Lakers’ first 11 points and finished with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting with five 3-pointers in 29 minutes. It marked his second 20-point game of the postseason — the other being when he finished with 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting (5-9 3PA) in their closeout game against the Grizzlies.

Russell, 27, was drafted No. 2 overall by the Lakers in 2015 and spent two years with the organization before getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets ahead of the 2017-18 season. While the numbers may not be as indicative, his second stint alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis appears to be smoother.

Russell’s freedom and scoring outbursts — similar to Game 3 — are a reason why the Lakers are in the current position they are, and that shouldn’t be ignored.

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