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Breaking down D’Angelo Russell in the pick and roll

NBA: Preseason-Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

D’Angelo Russell put on a show in his first game as a Brooklyn Net, scoring 19 points in 20 minutes and clearly having an impact on the offensive end.

It just seemed so effortless. But it wasn’t.

Russell displayed a variety of moves that showed off the potential for a promising 2017-18 campaign, both for the the 21-year-old and the team.

One play, however, sticks out. It came early in the third quarter when former teammate Timofey Mozgov set a pick for him on the left wing - extended. Russell brought a double- then triple-team to him and split the defender for a floater in the lane.

It’s only one play, but it’s crucial to understand what he can do for a spread Nets offense. Take a look:

1. Mozgov sets the screen on the right side of the defender. This is where D’Angelo must make a decision: use the screen and force the ball towards the middle or use the strong hand and penetrate. Notice Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the lower left block, Jeremy Lin on the lower right block, and DeMarre Carroll spread right-wing extended. This spreads the floor and Kyle O’Quinn needs to decide whether to double on D’Angelo, stay with Mozgov, or switch.

2. D’Angelo decides to go with his strong hand to the left. Mozgov’s man, Kyle O’Quinn, elected to come with a double off the pick-and-roll. By the time O’Quinn reacts, Russell is already near the elbow. Check the entire Knicks defense. All five players have a foot inside the paint. DeMarre Carroll sits wide open on the three-point line, while Mozgov rolls to the rim.

It would have been even neater if the man setting the pick was a stretch big because there is so much space for (in this case) Mozgov to pick-and pop at the top of the key.

At this point, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should already be in the corner to give D’Angelo a strong-side option on the perimeter AND draw less attention inside the paint. Lin needs to recognize this too, which he eventually does.

3. D’Angelo splits the defenders and it’s a free-for-all after that. Since Hollis-Jefferson didn’t leak to the corner, Porzingis posed as a third defender for D’Angelo to split, which he did, but this could’ve easily resulted in a turnover if it weren’t for Russell’s craftiness.

Still, with Russell inside the paint he can go up with the shot or dish to a wide-open DeMarre Carroll whose man is about seven feet off of him. This hesitation in the pick- and-roll does so much for the Nets’ offense. Here’s the reasoning: Russell can hit Carroll, who can shoot the three or swing it in the corner to the spotting Lin.

This ball movement would look magical with the addition of one more element. There’s really only three players who can legitimately spread the floor. If the Nets have four guys on the floor who can shoot, they would all be spread on the perimeter... the way the offense is designed. This exploits defenses.

4. Let’s watch the play in full speed...

Nick LeTourneau provides the play-by-play:

Notice how D’Angelo takes three dribbles in a gliding fashion to his left side. He baits Porzingis while the two pick-and-roll defenders think they have him in a good position. Again, Russell’s craftiness allows him to sneak through the double team and get an easy bucket. This is a very, very unique skill and it shows a very, very high basketball IQ.

If he holds onto the ball too long, it can slow down the motion offense, but he’s a playmaker and you have to trust him in a situation like that. Most players would likely get flustered in a double team in the corner and/or turn the ball over. Again, it’s unique especially for a player his age, a mere 21 years and seven months old.

We asked Kenny Atkinson what he thought of the move in particular and what it means for the Nets’ offense to have a playmaker like that. He compared it to something Chris Paul would do.

“That’s the old Chris Paul put-the-guy-on-your-back,” Atkinson said. “I think you’re just waiting for the defense to make a mistake. Listen, he’s a cerebral player. He knows how to play the game, he knows to play the pick-and-roll.”

Atkinson also mentioned how it can slow up the offense if somebody has the ball too long. The ball must be always moving in this system in order to find the open man on the perimeter. However, a playmaker like Russell will only enhance open looks with a variety of moves like this... as long as he makes a quick decision.

“I think it was Jeremy’s [Lin] thing too that they hold the ball too long, but I think you need to give your pick-and-roll ballhandler some freedom to probe and find the opening in the defense,” Atkinson explained.

Freedom will be needed indeed. Expect teams to double Russell more and more as this season rolls. And that’s good for the Nets offense because it opens things up for everybody else. When you shoot 16-of-32 without your best three-point shooter... you get it.

(H/T to NetsDaily’s Nicholas LeTourneau for the clip.)