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PORTLAND – Early in his career, D'Angelo Russell wanted to offer some words of encouragement to a veteran teammate in the last year of his career. He told this teammate to keep shooting, despite his shot not falling for a couple games.

The teammate, Kobe Bryant, didn't exactly need the advice.

"I went up to him and I told him, 'Keep shooting, Kobe.' He looked at me and laughed," Russell said. "Like, 'It's my last year. You don't think I'm going to keep shooting?' So, I learned that from him. Just keep going, it will make its way, keep playing right."

Russell relayed that story in early November when he was going through a slump the first few weeks of the season.

Through the first 13 games, the numbers weren't what Russell or the Wolves wanted to see: 13.2 points per game, 38% shooting overall, 30% from three-point range.

There's a clear demarcation point when Russell began to turn his season around — Nov. 13 against Cleveland, when he went 11-for-13. Since then, Russell has 19.2 points, 53% shooting and 39% from three-point range over 12 games. He's also averaging seven assists compared to 5.8 and 2.4 turnovers compared to 3.1. The Wolves were 8-4 in those 12 games entering Saturday's matchup against Portland.

"He's a heck of a player. He's got a lot to offer," Wolves coach Chris Finch said. "We asked him in the beginning of the season to set the table more and get off of it early and he did that. Unfortunately, I think it hurt rhythm-wise a bit. But he was starting to find a bit more rhythm even before KAT [Karl-Anthony Towns] went out."

Russell's play in each segment of the season illustrates why he is so valuable and how good or poorly the Wolves can play based on his performance.

Russell's outside shooting played a major role in the Wolves' last two wins. He hit all six three-point attempts in Friday's win over Utah, and he scored 15 points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over Indiana. Without Russell's shot-making, the Wolves likely don't win either game. His perimeter shooting is also crucial now because the Wolves are taking fewer three-pointers than they were a season ago (33.6 vs. 41.3) because of their bigger lineup. That is compounded with Towns and his 5.6 attempts per night out of the lineup. In the modern NBA, teams need to be able to hit from the outside. Russell has provided that ammunition.

What caused this turnaround? Russell said after Friday's win that he had "the wrong approach" to begin the season.

"I was trying to be too focused on being a point guard instead of a basketball player," Russell said. "... I kind of just play basketball freely and have fun. I pass the ball, so I'm labeled as a point guard. But just being a full, all-around basketball player, [I was] switching my approach to that."

As for his success in the fourth quarter, Russell said he often is taking "mental notes" during the first three quarters as to what's working for him and others that particular night. Playing off the ball can allow him to do that more.

Then in the fourth quarter, he adjusts.

"I always try to attack those moments versus kind of sitting back and letting it happen," Russell said. "I believe in myself that much, so when the game or whenever needs be, I try to be the guy if I can to have my hands on it. If it's not shooting the shot, it's making the pass, so I just believe in myself that much over anybody."


Guard Jordan McLaughlin was listed as out for Saturday's game after aggravating a left calf injury in Friday's game against Utah. Finch said McLaughlin, who missed five games because of the injury before playing in the previous three, is day to day.