There were nights in previous seasons Timberwolves point guard D'Angelo Russell would have to go one-on-one against Patrick Beverley, one of the league's most tenacious defenders.
Those experiences, Russell said, would cause him to do some self-reflection about just how good he was and what he needed to do to improve.
"I give a lot of credit to that dude," Russell said. "This goes before he even got here. He helped me assert myself into the league, playing against a tough defender like him. Day in and day out, there's a lot of games he sent me home thinking about basketball, seeing where I need to put the work in and get better."
Russell had an auspicious preseason opener in Monday's 117-114 victory over New Orleans with 19 points in 16 minutes on 6-for-10 shooting, and that comes after a strong summer that Russell said he treated like a contract year. Even though he has one more year left after this one, he can be eligible for an extension this coming offseason.
He'll have some help in earning that from new teammate Beverley, who said he wanted to challenge Russell and Anthony Edwards to get better this season. Beverley said he sees a lot of potential in Russell.
"I put D-Lo with the same skill set — don't take my words and twist them around — but the same skill set as the James Harden types. The Kyrie Irving types — a player that is God-gifted skill wise, can pass the ball, can shoot, can get to the free-throw line," Beverley said. "A three-level scorer that can score in the post if he needs to, pass out of the post."
How can Russell get to that level and realize the potential Beverley sees?
"Attitude. It's all about doing the little things right," Beverley said. "How consistently can you get up earlier than everyone and put your work in? Not for two weeks, but for three months, for four months, five months, a year, for two years, for three years. Consistently putting in work. It might not show in the beginning, but there's going to be that one game you're going to need for it to show and it'll show."
Russell said he and coach Chris Finch formed a quick bond after Finch came to the team midseason, and often Russell said it takes more time than that for him to warm up to a coach. Finch has often said Russell's passing is "elite" and Russell has been working to play at the offensive pace Finch wants. That showed toward the end of last season and in Monday's game.
"We get stops and I think it allows us to be exciting," Russell said. "It allows us to be exciting in transition and giving fans what they want and also, like I said, we're scrambling and running around, working our tails off to get the stop, why not run when we get it?"
Russell was one of the most vocal Wolves on the bench Monday night, constantly communicating with teammates on and off the floor and even throwing some trash talk around at the Pelicans, such as saying Devonte Graham, formerly of the Hornets, should go back to the Eastern Conference.
He would also encourage the crowd to "give him some love" anytime a teammate would check out. Russell was trying his hardest to get the 5,715 in attendance to get into the game.
"I treat it like a party," Russell said of his attitude on the bench. "I think the players feed off it that are on the court and it keeps you loose for when you get back out there."
Ultimately, a winning team will provide plenty of enthusiasm and reasons to cheer. Russell will play a big part in that if the Wolves are successful, and Beverley is here to help him optimize his performance.
"Don't miss the small things, don't miss the small hurdles," Beverley said. "Go out there and be great. He's been responding every day in practices and it's not a surprise he played well [Monday]."