NBA trade grades: Warriors send D'Angelo Russell to Timberwolves, betting big on Andrew Wiggins

After dancing around a deal for the past few days, the Golden State Warriors have pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade that sends D'Angelo Russell to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves' 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected) and a 2022 second-round pick. 

There's a lot to unpack here, so let's get to it. Here are the grades for each side of this deal. 

Warriors trade grade: B

  • Golden State adds: Andrew Wiggins, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected), 2022 second-round pick
  • Golden State loses: D'Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans

I'm going to give the Warriors the benefit of the doubt for their track record. When they executed the sign-and-trade for Russell in the first place, a lot of people thought the four-year, $117 max contract they gave him was an overpay, perhaps a significant one that would potentially make him a negative asset on the trade market. But the Warriors have gotten the most out of Russell, who has validated the All-Star season he put together in Brooklyn to the point that his contract now at least feels justified. Steve Kerr, who doesn't believe in stagnant pick-and-roll sets as the mainstay of an offense, has fostered Russell's off-ball development. 

All of this is to say, the Warriors are betting they can have an even greater impact on Wiggins, who is another player on a max deal that is widely viewed as a negative asset. There are probably some teams in the league who wouldn't even have taken Wiggins as a salary filler, let alone as the core player in the middle of a blockbuster trade, without some draft compensation for their troubles. 

The Warriors, of course, did get draft picks in addition to Wiggins, which is no small part of this deal. Minnesota was reportedly offering its 2020 first-round pick in initial iterations of this deal, but the Warriors are already going to have a high lottery pick this summer, and the 2020 class isn't considered to be particularly strong or deep. 

So the Warriors get Minnesota's 2021 first-round pick with just a top-three protection. Even with Russell, the chances of the Wolves making the playoffs in the West next season aren't great, so that should be a top-10 pick at least. The 2022 second-rounder is the icing on the cake, adding to a once-empty chest of second-rounders that is rapidly filling up for Golden State. 

Also, there is the $50 million matter of this deal keeping the Warriors out of the repeated tax penalties. From The Athletic:

Golden State is out of the tax! The Warriors needed to find a way given how expensive next year's roster looks to be; depending on the final roster construction, they were looking at $50M in repeater penalties alone. By stuffing Evans and Spellman into the trade, Golden State can now fill its six open roster spots (!) with minimum contracts and still remain a whisker below the tax line… taking the repeater out of play next season as well. 

Still, this largely comes down to Wiggins, who has made improvements this season in terms of shot selection and still possesses tantalizing talent. He's averaging 22.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season, all career highs. The obvious assumption is he, like any other perimeter player, will reap the benefits of playing alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Wiggins has long struggled to be a reliable source of a top-option offense, but as a true secondary scorer with spot-up responsibilities, there is legitimate reason for optimism. 

Wiggins is also a terrific cutter. Always has been. It's probably the best part of his offensive arsenal at this point, and cutting is a major part of what the Warriors do. Defensively, he should be an upgrade from Russell. He's a great athlete with switching ability, and again, Golden State is betting it can bring the best out of Wiggins, who's never exactly been a gung-ho defender. Either that, or Draymond Green is going to end up ringing his neck. 

This is the best set of circumstances Wiggins will likely ever find himself in, and if he thrives, the Warriors will ultimately deserve a better grade than a B given the tax and draft-pick benefits of this deal. But at this point in time, that's a big if considering Wiggins' track record. And Russell is a really good player. He obviously didn't have a huge market, but it's not unreasonable to think the Warriors could've held out until this summer and potentially gotten more. They took the deal in hand because they wanted picks, and likely because they never saw Russell truly fitting alongside Curry.

Timberwolves trade grade: B+

  • Minnesota adds: D'Angelo Russell, Omari Spellman, Jacob Evans
  • Minnesota loses: Andrew Wiggins, 2021 first-round pick (top-three protected), 2022 second-round pick

As mentioned above, Russell has validated his max contract, while Wiggins largely hasn't. That alone is a big win for Minnesota before you even consider the positional need. You can't do anything in today's NBA without a legit threat at the point guard spot -- or whatever you want to call an offensive initiator in the modern world of position-less basketball -- and Russell gives the Wolves that presence. 

Russell is an absolute All-Star offensive player. One league scout who spoke with CBS Sports earlier this season said Russell has a claim as the "best pick-and-roll player" in the league. That might be a stretch, but not by much. Russell is phenomenal as a shot creator and passer. He is very close with Karl-Anthony Towns, too. Their chemistry and complementary talents should blossom in short order. 

Defense, of course, could be a problem. Towns has just never become the defender he has the ability to be. He's so unaware off the ball it's hard to watch sometimes, and Russell is a negative defender as well. The Wolves just traded Robert Covington, for which they got good value. Last year's lottery pick, Jarrett Culver, projects as a potential defensive plus down the road, and Josh Okogie and Malik Beasley can defend, but your two best players being legitimately bad defenders in today's league is a big hurdle. 

All told, Minnesota has its own first-round pick this season as well as Brooklyn's first-rounder, and now with two All-Star talents in place long term, you can see the beginnings of hopefully something real in Minnesota. The Wolves wanted Russell this past summer but missed, and they probably regretted the Wiggins contract the second they signed it. Now they've rectified both. 

As far as the throw-ins, Jacob Evans hasn't shown much of anything, and two teams have bailed on Omari Spellman in less than two seasons. 

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