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NBA Daily: Biggest Surprises – Pacific Division

Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ series on surprises by evaluating three teams in the Pacific Division, their statuses in your social circles and whether or not to abandon all hope already.

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Listen, if you’ve found yourself here at this exact moment in late October and/or/potentially early November, there’s likely only one thing on your newly-refined, basketball-obsessed minds: hot takes.

Make ‘em as hot as you can. And none of that Cholula weak sauce spiciness either — no, let’s sear some taste buds off and shoot them all to the moon, never to be seen or heard from again. While a handful of my colleagues — sorry, Matt, Jordan, Drew — have launched reasonable observations in their by-the-division assignments, the conclusion still remains: any sample sizes, to this point, fall firmly under the difficult umbrella of filing — too tough to commit to, too impossible to guarantee.

In other words: they’re boring. (And what’s spicier than sending shots across the bow about your web-based teammates — I’m doing this correctly, right?) The Utah Jazz will probably have an elite-level offense, eventually. There’s little reason to worry about James Harden’s nosediving percentages until the All-Star break, too. And, sure, the Indiana Pacers have disappointed without Victor Oladipo to steer the ship — but, in reality, they weren’t true Eastern Conference contenders at any point.

Naturally, to make up for that tameness, the Pacific Division edition of the series will merely just lean in even harder. The Golden State Warriors? Send them to the G League. The Sacramento Kings? We were all suckers for believing that a tortured franchise could ever claw their way back from the depths of decade-long despair. The Pheonix Suns? They might as well be anointed as the new Kings, appropriate as that title may be.

And after five games, these are some undeniable and concrete conclusions. Set in stone, you can send them along in group chats with absolutely zero worry or responsibility. Embrace the hotness of October basketball and try to invent some even bigger claims about the Pacific Division!

Disband The Warriors — Better Yet, Take Away The New Arena

Has it really been that long since the We Believe Warriors of 2007? While that lovable gang of misfits shocked the world over ten years ago — early on, it’s obvious that this current version of the once-historically-great Golden State franchise will be lucky to even sniff the postseason. In lieu of outright saying that they stink — their 30th-ranked defensive rating of 118.5 speaks for itself — perhaps then, should they lose the rights to play in their brand-new, state-of-the-art arena until matters course correct.

Of course, before Wednesday, the answer was obviously that they should not tank. Of course, they could not consider blowing it all up. Of course, Klay Thompson is hurt and most of their notable role players are gone, retired or suffering in Memphis — but tank? No, that’s a building worth $1.4 billion and the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back NBA Finalists could never embrace such a fate. Unsurprisingly, Draymond Green couldn’t buy into the rose-colored, glass-half-full perspective just yet, even after finally breaking into the win column:

“Oh, we’re still not a very good team,” Green said. “We have a lot of room for improvement, just because we won one game doesn’t mean we don’t suck right now, we still have a lot of improvement to do.”

And then, the optimism — if there was any — went out the window when Stephen Curry broke his hand. Out for the foreseeable future, the tank-worthy takes came faster than ever — after all, they would likely owe their 2020 first-rounder to Brooklyn if things didn’t completely capitulate. So, maybe: Rest up, nurse Curry and Thompson to health and take a year to evaluate the potential surrounding pieces. D’Angelo Russell is still adjusting and Green will keep Golden State from being historically bad on defense — but that’s not exactly the biggest issue at this point.

Alas, it’s the rest of the roster that remains a question mark of the highest variety. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alec Burks made their season debuts during Wednesday night’s loss against Phoenix — 12 points, five rebounds; seven points, respectively — but the bench is littered with unproven youngsters.

At this time last year, Eric Paschall was gearing up to lead a depleted Villanova squad as a 21-year-old — today, he’s Warriors’ third-highest scorer. Glenn Robinson III averaged 4.2 points over 13 minutes per game for the Detroit Pistons in 2018-19 — as of now, he’s Golden State’s nailed-on starter at small forward. Kevon Looney, Cauley-Stein and Burks will help — but not enough in a Curry-less Western Conference hierarchy. Already, continuing their monumental half-decade run to the Finals seems nearly impossible.

But that’s OK: Basketball is cyclical and those on top rarely stay there forever. Still, their current level of play is not befitting for one of the most expensive stadiums in human history — although, in their defense, the New York Giants and Jets doubly share in that pricey mediocrity as a yearly tradition without issue.

So here’s the proposal: Play like a G League team, play in the G League. Until the Warriors improve as an overall unit, swap them out with Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz Warriors are set to open their season on Nov. 8 and if their parent club can’t figure it out by then, give them the heave-ho. Last year, Santa Cruz went 34-16 and made the Conference Finals — and, honestly, that might be a better on-court product than whatever the 126-opponent-points-per-game-Golden State Warriors are offering up.

Disband the franchise, shoot their championship banners into the outer reaches of our solar system and then pray for mercy — but sadly, the basketball isn’t even pretty as it stands and maybe that’s the most surprising bit of all. Without Curry, it’s bound to get way worse.

The Phoenix Suns Are Basically A Disney Movie

This is difficult, but Basketball Insiders would like to apologize for any shade, tweets or personal negative thoughts shared — both publicly and privately — about the Phoenix Suns and general manager James Jones over the last six months. They’re actually… good? For some real statistical analysis, we’d suggest moseying over to Quinn Davis’ earlier piece on the conversation. Better then, that means this section-long apology can continue unbarred from here on out.

Frank Kaminsky? Maybe he didn’t get a fair shake in Charlotte after all as the seven-footer is currently averaging 12 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists over 26 minutes per game — all would, obviously, set new career-bests. Deandre Ayton: Suspended, but still promising. Devin Booker: Not a fan of double teams, but remains an undeniable scoring machine (and now a much-improved passer). Kelly Oubre Jr., once famously the fourth man of a two-ring Washington circus, has absolutely continued to thrive with the new scenery (and his new swimming pool of cash, too).

Phoenix’s point differential is a ridiculous plus-9.2, fourth-highest league-wide and surrounded by Finals hopefuls and rosters with bonafide MVP candidates. The Suns’ 28.8 assists per game slot them at second-best in the NBA; last year, they finished in 20th in that category. Then there’s Ricky Rubio, recently cast out of both Minnesota and Utah for shinier toys, who tries on defense and satisfies the Suns’ multiple-year effort to both identify and sign/trade/develop a real point guard.

And maybe that’s the emerging theme in Phoenix this year: They’re clearly just copying the plans to any nondescript gritty, underdog Disney movie. And better yet: It’s actually working. Cool Runnings, Rudy, The Big Green; rinse and repeat, take your pick, it hardly matters. Maybe once a team hits a certain amount of castaways and underrated athletes, they automatically transcend proceedings and take on an unshakable date with destiny. If it’s not too late to bet the house and your entire life savings on the Suns, do it.

The easy caveated asterisk would be to mention that this probably won’t last. In the end, they’ve still got to play the two Los Angeles-based squads and the rest of Western Conference for, oh, six more months and, again, these are small sample sizes. So unless we’ve got a 1988 Winter Olympics situation afoot — remember, the Jamaican bobsled team came this close — then try to enjoy it while this lasts. Still, the damage has been done to media egos across the board: Phoenix has a competitive roster and we were all wrong — sorry, James.

The Sun(s) Will Rise Again starring Timothée Chalamet as Ricky Rubio to hit theaters in April 2020 — don’t miss it!

The Kings Are Suddenly No Longer Everybody’s Favorite Undisclosed Second Team

In 2018-19, you’d be hard-pressed to find another darling as loved as the Sacramento Kings were. De’Aaron Fox was affable, funny and, better yet, a blossoming basketball player. Marvin Bagley III looked, too, like a star in the making, while Buddy Hield, pre-contract negotiations, had ascended to long-range royalty. Although the Kings barely missed the postseason, the message appeared to be clear: At long last, the curse had been lifted and Sacramento would finally and definitively graduate to the rank of “Real Basketball Team” again.

And how silly it was to believe any of that, right?

Bogdan Bogdanovic may or may not be unhappy. The Kings may or may not have buyer’s remorse on Harrison Barnes’ offseason deal. Through five games, Dewayne Dedmon, Sacramento’s newly-signed center, is rocking a PER of 2.06. Over 22 minutes per game, Trevor Ariza is only tallying 3.8 points and the Kings’ defensive rating is down near the cellar. Harry Giles has struggled to stay healthy and now Bagley is out for the next 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured thumb. Worse, the run-and-fun offense that the young Kings made a staple of their surprise campaign has evaporated completely.

In the five defeats, Sacramento has notched just 12.4 fastbreak points per game — ranking them at No. 18 thus far. It’s a distant cry from the league-leading 20.9 points they averaged last season with head coach Dave Joerger at the helm, who was unceremoniously fired despite leading the Kings to their best regular season record since 2005-06. Now under the watchful eye of Luke Walton, they’ve begun to trend backward and sideways instead ahead. In what seems to be a competitive division hidden amongst a cutthroat conference, the Kings may be digging themselves into a giant, bottomless pit — so, unfortunately, it’s time to say farewell to your secret second favorite team.

Everybody’s got them, don’t lie.

Generally speaking, these teams are tailor-made for post-practice and corporate water cooler conversations. Fun and scrappy — and, importantly, unable to truly disappoint given a low bar of expectations — the Kings often gave onlookers an outlet of solace for their regular-day pains. With Fox, Hield and Bagley operating on all cylinders, Sacramento existed as a breezy secondary option, a late-night solution for any iso-laden trappings and star-heavy shortcomings found elsewhere. For a brief moment, the Kings were a dose of cure-all medication: Young, speedy and modern — a match made in heaven within a social-media indebted society.

Now, unfortunately, those Kings are dead. We’ve buried them. They’re gone and all we can do is swiftly move on.

Other new sneaky-good options to claim fandom ownership of come the holiday season: Ja Morant; the Orlando Magic; mastering the art of tradsies between James Harden and Russell Westbrook; the Cleveland Cavaliers; Nikola Jokic; the aforementioned Suns; Kyrie Irving’s desire to freestyle dribble every possession permanently into the hardwood; Joe Ingles and steadfastly defending Ben Simmons’ role as ‘a peacemaker, not a three-taker.’

The point of a secret backup team is having an easy-to-reference comeback when somebody sullies the great and impeachable name of your favorite squad. Oh, really, I should believe in Bobby Portis? How’s Terry Rozier working out so far? The Chicago Bulls? More like the Chicago Dulls, right? And if that go-to retort happens to be 0-5, everybody is suddenly unhappy and playing slow, slow basketball — then they’ve got to go.

There’s already too much sadness in the world already, so find yourself a secret second favorite team that won’t make your trips to the office kitchen even more upsetting than usual.

Time can only tell if the Kings are truly cursed for eternity — but you can’t afford to wait around.

The season is only five games young, but don’t hesitate to write teams off completely, bury them alive and erase years and years worth of data from your mind with reckless abandon. In the case of the Pacific Division, that means demoting the Warriors to the G League and/or sending their championship banners into space. It also mandates that the Kings should probably be treated as an ex-significant other when whispered about in the hallways and on gym floors too — they’re just forgotten ghosts to you, don’t get it twisted

In the end, we’re already a full six percent into the season and that’s plenty of time to build an irrefutable narrative from which nobody will dare deviate from. So, for the moral of our story: Just lean in, we all know you want to.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA Daily: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors

Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.

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The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.

Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.

With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.

After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.

Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.

The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.

Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.

After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.

One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.

While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.

As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.

Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.

As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.

Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.

Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.

Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.

Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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