If you checked D’Angelo Russell’s box score entering the fourth quarter of Friday’s victory, you would think he was having a quiet night. But if you watched the final eight minutes of the game, you knew you were watching Brooklyn’s leader.
Russell was coming off an eight-turnover night in a 112-104 loss to the Denver Nuggets. He was benched most of the fourth quarter and logged just 21 minutes in that one. His coach had called Isaiah Whitehead, called up from the G-League hours before the game “our best point guard.” The question: how does he handle adversity on a long-term rebuilding team?
Very well, it appears.
Russell entered the fourth quarter with 10 points and eight assists and the Nets down by five. By night’s end, Russell had finished with 21 – five in the last minute on two shots that essentially won the game for Brooklyn.
Afterwards, he discussed a balanced team attack, praised Kenny Atkinson’s coaching and tipped his hat to veteran leader DeMarre Carroll, who spoke with him after his eight-turnover outing.
"I give the credit to DeMarre Carroll, keeping me poised, talking to me through the whole game. Off the floor we chat a little bit just to keep the poise,” Russell told Michael Grady post-game
This is why the Nets can smile. The biggest question after Russell’s two years in Los Angeles were his maturity and his leadership. Russell sounds like somebody who is buying into what this whole Brooklyn thing is about. The culture and all that comes with it… the hard-working, team-oriented culture.
With that comes the intangibles like confidence and trust. Knowing other players and coaches have your back through good and bad days... because there will be both. It’s something he didn’t have enough of in Los Angeles; something that can mess with a young player’s head.
It’s new for him and it’s all part of the plan.
“He’s excited to be in a place where he feels like the team, the organization, everybody is going to push him and have his back, 100 percent,” his father Antonio Russell told the New York Times at his introductory press conference back in June.
It’s important to him. The Lakers did the opposite of reassuring him. Words, many unkind, were said when he arrived, during his time there and finally on his way out. Things are different here.
After the bad loss to Denver, DeMarre Carroll told reporters that he and DLo spoke. Carroll, an eight-year veteran, sat down with the 21-year-old Russell to discuss everything from composure to simply knowing when to make the right play.
These are the things that Russell so badly needs here. He needs reassurance just as bad as he needs to be held accountable, for say, committing eight turnovers. It’s all part of the learning process. And it’s what this team is all about. The one for all, all for one mentality.
Carroll went on to explain how he did the same thing with Jeff Teague back in Atlanta. Aside from ‘teaching’ Russell, Carroll and the Nets know they need him in order to see any success this season.
“I told him go look at film of Teague and see how he adapted to it; because at the end of the game we’re going to need him, his scoring. It’s growing pains. He’ll learn. He’ll definitely be better.”
It’s a small example of what the Nets are trying to do with him. It’s to make him better as a player and leader now ... and in the future. He sounds more mature. He’s played more mature, too. And for Brooklyn, this speaks volume not only for D’Angelo, but for DeMarre. D on D.
The Nets acquired Carroll supposedly as a “salary dump” but Kenny Atkinson, who had the forward in Atlanta knew what he was getting. Carroll has turned into the veteran voice - and heart - of the team. He’s served almost as a player-coach, something Atkinson wanted from Jeremy Lin. But with Lin out, somebody else needed to step up and play the veteran role. Carroll is doing that while contributing on the court.
It’s a simple thing like a sit-down or a conversation. It’s the kind of thing that impacts your game because your head is simply in a better place. These are the things that Brooklyn can offer a player like D’Angelo Russell, things the Lakers failed to do in the two years they had him.