TORONTO – There promises to be better nights than Monday for the Timberwolves and D’Angelo Russell.
In a 137-126 loss to Toronto, Russell scored 22 points on 7-for-12 shooting, but he had six turnovers and didn’t score in the fourth quarter.
But Russell, like a lot of his teammates, is acclimating to a new situation in one of the most uncommon roster overhauls you’ll ever see in the NBA. After the Wolves acquired eight new players last week, everyone is still getting to know each other. New forward James Johnson referred to Monday as “Day 3 of our training camp.”
For Russell, who is slated to make his home debut Wednesday against Charlotte, this means not only getting to know his new teammates, but learning the Wolves’ offensive system. He has some familiarity with it after playing under Wolves assistant Pablo Prigioni in Brooklyn last season, but there are new plays and new terms Russell doesn’t know — and he’s trying to quarterback the offense at the same time.
“He doesn’t know hardly any of the offense right now,” coach Ryan Saunders said. “He was playing off instinct, off feel, a few basic things we put in for him and for this group. But for him not necessarily knowing what we want out of each action, I thought he did a nice job.”
The Wolves practiced Tuesday back in Minneapolis in preparation for Wednesday’s home game against Charlotte — their last one before a lengthy All-Star break. Russell said that even though he had some familiarity with how the Wolves want to play, it’s hard to tell how long it might take him to get up to speed.
“There’s no right answer to that,” Russell said. “… The quicker we can get in film and get some games under our belt to be better, I think that’ll come in time.”
Saunders said the learning curve at point guard can take a little longer.
“But he’s cerebral,” Saunders said. “I’ve been around him for a few days and the conversations I’ve had with D’Angelo, and the way he views the game and the way he views defenses, I think he’s going to pick things up really quick.”
It’s one thing to learn the offense at another position on the floor, but the responsibility lies with the point guard to initiate the action and a lot of the calls, center Karl-Anthony Towns said. Russell then has to make reads off the calls, and he has to learn all this terminology while adjusting to new teammates at the same time.
“He has to run the show,” Towns said. “What he calls goes, and if he calls a play offensively, it goes. He has a lot of responsibility because not only is he trying to guard the fastest person usually on the court … he has to make a play for us to have our pace and we play fast.”
Russell has had some help in distributing the ball from Towns, who has had 16 assists over the past two games. Towns seems comfortable finding open teammates, and the Wolves are hitting shots off those looks at a higher rate than before the moves.
“They’re doing a great job of cutting and playing aggressive and doing the best they can to do the little things,” Towns said. “We haven’t really had any much practice, and we’re just playing kind of a park basketball system. … I’m more than a willing passer.”
That can help ease the transition on Russell, though he isn’t trying to hurry the process.
“It’s just a lot of dissecting the film and bringing it together and seeing how we can take the weight off each other’s shoulders,” Russell said.