Call it what you want — a slump, a mini-slump, a funk — but Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell hasn’t been hitting shots like he’s accustomed to over the past two games.
Russell is 8-for-32 in that span and followed a 2-for-14 performance Friday against Orlando with a 6-for-18 day in a loss to New Orleans. He also has missed his past 11 attempts from three-point range.
The Wolves’ defense was an issue in those losses, but the team has been competitive at times when its defense has suffered — and in those instances they are competitive because Russell is percolating offensively.
But when he’s not, it has meant double-digit losses.
Russell wasn’t concerned that his cold streak would continue.
“Just got to kind of let it go,” Russell said. “Don’t dwell too much on it. Never too high. Never too low. It’s a part of the game. Just let it go and I’ll be all right.”
Russell said he was happy with the shots he was getting. One of his teammates, Malik Beasley, said the Wolves have to do a better job of setting up Russell.
“There’s a lot going on in his head,” Beasley said. “So we all have got to help him in the sense of what is to make him get easy shots, make all of us get easy shots. He’s one of the leaders of the team, so we’ve got to make sure he gets easy looks.”
Beasley said he didn’t think Russell was in a slump.
“Just be a good teammate, encourage him to shoot more, because the next shot’s going in,” Beasley said. “I don’t think he’s in a slump. I think he’s trying to be such a great player for our team, including being a point guard, including being one of the leaders of our team.”
Sunday’s game had a remarkable statistic: Neither team scored from the midrange. That shot has been one of Russell’s calling cards throughout his career. That’s created an interesting dynamic in his time with the Wolves, who have prided themselves on not taking many low-value midrange shots. Russell has taken slightly fewer midrange shots than when he was in Golden State earlier this season.
Russell has said he and coach Ryan Saunders would communicate about the volume Russell takes from the midrange, but at the same time he doesn’t want to alter what he perceived to be his strengths too much.
“I’m going to do that regardless,” Russell said. “Coach is going to have to just — we’ll have to communicate about it. I’m going to play my game.”
It helps that Russell is making 48% of his midrange shots, but Saunders said the Wolves aren’t going to betray who they are — a team that strives for the most efficient shots on the floor, corner threes, open threes and shots at the rim. Russell does take a healthy amount of threes — 50.8% of all his shot attempts are from there.
“We’re not changing what we want,” Saunders said. “But if he scores in the midrange, you might bite your tongue a little more as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, let’s try and get you to the rim, let’s try and get a pass to the corner, get a three.’ As opposed to just kind of biting your tongue because the guy just made eight midrange shots in the flow of the game. …
“Even if a guy makes 55 midrange shots, we’ll still talk about what we value for this team going forward. It’s not just because we make it. We still want the process to be right on how we get to that outcome.”
Saunders said this process would be easier if he and Russell had a summer to talk about it and work on ways to get the most optimal shots within the offense, and Saunders added some of that burden is on him and Russell’s teammates to work for those shots.
In the meantime, the Wolves and Russell will try to work on getting him back on track. Saunders mentioned Russell was shooting “for a long time” after Friday’s game. Anything it takes to shake it off.
“D’Angelo is an elite player in this league,” Saunders said. “He’s confident. He doesn’t need somebody to tell him, ‘Hey, you have to make more shots.’ Because he holds himself to a high standard. … His heart’s in the right place. So I’m not concerned about D’Angelo. I feel he’ll be good moving forward.”