Gersson Rosas, the Timberwolves new President of Basketball Operations, has spent the past 16 seasons under Daryl Morey in Houston. Morey has been the most creative GM in the league when it comes to his team, but his crowning jewel has been the development of James Harden. Harden went from a 6th man for a Western Conference Finals team in Oklahoma City, to the most efficient player in the NBA. Harden is obviously talented, but the organization made a choice. A choice to work towards creating efficient NBA offense and valuing player development above everything else.
Now some of Rosas’ moves already have the Wolves’ trending in that direction. The coaching hires have been very promising so far. David VanterPool, the former Portland coach, has been credited for the rapid growth of C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard. While Pablo Prigioni, the former Rockets player and Nets assistant coach, has a reputation for being a basketball genius and has a bright future in coaching. But what comes next? Now that the staff is complete, what can Rosas do to this roster in order to help it take next step? The roster is missing it’s James Harden, it’s focal point in efficient basketball offense. Acquiring an underappreciated talent and developing it is the best way to move forward for this franchise.
I believe that D’Angelo Russell can be Rosas’ version of James Harden. Here’s How:
Russell’s Shooting Inefficiency in Brooklyn
Without a doubt, out of all of the All-Stars that were selected, there was no one who was less efficient with their shot selection than D’Angelo Russell. Russell attempted 17% of his total shots from mid-range (5ft-23ft), which is considered one of the least efficient shots in the NBA. He is currently the wrong mixture of difficult shot making and point production. Look at his shot selection and where his points come from compared to James Harden, who is considered the most efficient player in the NBA.
|%FGA 2PT||%FGA 3PT||%PTS 2PT||%PTS 2PT Mid Range||%PTS 3PT||%PTS FT|
Sifting through this data, there are a couple things to note.
- Russell’s shot selection from 3pt line was 18% lower than Harden but his percentage of total points had only a 3% difference. Meaning Russell is a good 3pt shooter when he takes those shots and should shoot more of them than he does.
- Harden scored over twice as many of his points from the Free Throw Line than Russell did. Harden attacks the rim more physically and knows how to use the pump fake to get players to foul him.
- Russell relies on his points from the mid-range 8 times more than James Harden. Harden is such an efficient scorer not only from his skill, but his shot selection. Not wasting time taking a difficult mid-range jumper, but opting for a 3pt shot or going to the rim.
Why are these details important? Because all of these things can be coached! The inefficiencies in Russell’s game could all but vanish within a year. The Wolves are hoping to adopt the spirit of Rosas’ old team, the Houston Rockets, and they are a prime example of where you shoot being more important than how good you are at shooting. Using basic math, you come to the following conclusion:
– If you shoot 100 shots from 2-point range at 51.5% (A good FG% in the NBA) you yield 103 points.
– If you shoot 100 shots from 3-point range at 37% (An average FG% in the NBA from 3pt) you yield 111 points.
So, if we get D’Angelo Russell, and his 37% 3pt shooting percentage, to have his shot selection the exact same as James Harden last year, this is what we get.
- D’Angelo Russell PPG 2019: 21.1
- D’Angelo Russell PPG maximized with shot selection: 23.1
23.1 PPG puts Russell at the level of Kyrie Irving.
Russell’s Skill Set Fits what Rosas wants
- Russell is a dynamic passer and playmaker who loves to push in transition. His decision making and pin point passing in transition is as good as anyone in the NBA.
- Rosas is looking for an up-and-down style of basketball from the Timberwolves this year. The Timberwolves were middle of the pack in pace of play and are looking to jump into the top 5 next year.
- The early version of Houston’s offense with James Harden (circa 2017) focused more on Pick & Roll and less on Isolation. Pick & Roll is something that Russell is very comfortable with. In fact, Russell ran pick & roll 50% of the time on his offensive possessions. One of the highest numbers in the NBA last season.
- On top of everything else, Russell is a great shooter. Russell shot 44% from the floor in the 2018-2019 season, which was the same percentage as NBA superstars Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker.
All in all, D’Angelo Russell is an experiment. Expecting him to turn out as well as James Harden is not reasonable, but this is the type of move a franchise like the Minnesota Timberwolves needs to make. They won’t woo many open market free agents (Thanks 6-month winters), but they can focus on creating and maximizing talent. The Wolves hired Rosas for this reason, to build and foster talent that opposing NBA teams haven’t valued. With Rosas’ guidance and influence, Russell could unlock his true potential and lead the Wolves to new heights. If he does, Rosas’ influence will far surpass any previous Wolves GM ever. Greatness is at Rosas’ doorstep, he’s only a D’Angelo Russell away…….Probably.