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D’Angelo Russell is a scoring machine ... but

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest story heading into this season was D’Angelo Russell and how he would fit into the Nets offense. So far, the numbers look good despite Brooklyn’s 3-5 record.

Russell is averaging 21.7 points, five assists, four rebounds and one steal in just 26.5 minutes per game. His PER 36 numbers are even more impressive — averaging 29.5 points and six assists.

He’s scored as many 30-point games in seven games this season as he did all of last season after recording a season-high 33 points Tuesday. He’s posted games of 30, 17, 16, 29, 15, 12, 33 to go along with four games with five assists or more. That works out to a 21.7 point per game average, six points better than he did with the Lakers last year ... and in two fewer minutes.

So far, there is zero doubt that Russell is the scoring machine that everybody was hoping for. He isn’t logging that many minutes per game and he suffered a minor setback with a knee strain that took him out of the win over the Cavs.. And yet, he’s still putting up star-worthy numbers at 21-years-old.

His shotchart through seven games:

There’s no doubt D’Angelo thrives on the left side of the floor where his dominant hand takes over in pick and roll situations. You’ll notice the hot shooting inside the paint, where he’s added a running floater to his game. Then, of course, he’s shooting extremely well on the left-side elbow where most of his pick-and-rolls happen.

The question right now is whether DLo is a 1 or 2 in this particular offense. This wasn’t a concern up until Jeremy Lin got hurt, because the two of them were going to mix it up and share time off the ball. But now with Russell playing the point, the motion offense looks altered a bit in order to accommodate Russell’s strengths in the pick and roll, where he’s proven to be lethal — both scoring and passing.

He’s only had seven games to fully adjust to the motion offense, but Russell’s game is isolation and pick-and-roll heavy. He’s one of those players that will create for others based on his opportunities.

Somehow, the Nets need to find how he can fit into their style of play. If not, they’ll have to adjust to his strengths. That might not bode well for the rest of the team, specifically ‘system-fit’ players such as Allen Crabbe and Joe Harris.

So how do the Nets solve this problem ... particularly with Spencer Dinwiddie looking more like a 1?

Russell has the Nets scoring in bunches, but Dinwiddie has done a terrific job facilitating off the bench. It looks like the two can be a great pair if they share time on/off the ball. It’s only happened once this season and it was in the final minutes of Tuesday’s loss.

Kenny Atkinson had said that Dinwiddie is making it harder for the two not to play together.

“Well, it’s great because (Spencer) can play off the ball,” said Atkinson. “He’s 6’6”, it’s not like we’re talking about a 6’1” guy. Sometimes with Jeremy (at the 2) it was like ‘Man, he’s too small.’ With Spencer you feel like he could defend 2’s and even some 3’s. He’s shooting the ball really well, he can shoot off the ball, so if he continues to play like this we’ll have to find more minutes for him. There’s just no choice.”

With Dinwiddie leading the league in the assist-to-turnover ratio category -- and Russell averaging close to four turnovers per game — it’s on Atkinson and the coaching staff to figure out whether Russell is a 1 or 2.

“I think it’s something we have to look at,” Atkinson said on the prospect of playing his only two point guards together. “I do like it because D’Angelo is pretty good off the ball. We have to find that balance where we could get him off the ball a little. It was the first time we did it (Tuesday) night. I thought it was interesting and something we could look at going forward.”

But what about starting the two? Because of a sudden lack of depth in the backcourt (due to Lin’s season ending injury and Isaiah Whitehead’s GLeague assignments) that’s unlikely.

“No, no, that’s the problem. D’Angelo had his minutes, and then Spencer’s got to takeover when he’s not in,” said Atkinson. “We did try Caris (LeVert) a little at the point guard but I think right now when you’re looking at our two point guards it’s D’Angelo and Spencer.”

No matter what the configuration it’s crucial in how they develop both players going forward and how they’re going to operate the system now and in the future. You can run a motion offense with pick-and-roll incorporated, but if the decision-making isn’t quick (and confident) then the entire offense will be thrown off.


The problems, perhaps, are good ones to have. You have a very young and very talented player who’s simply trying to adjust to the system. Talent certainly isn’t a doubt. Consistency doesn’t appear to be an issue either. The question is on the Nets as a whole, and how they deal with Russell going forward.

Safe to say, it’s going to be fun watching him in a Nets uniform now and for years to come. The numbers look good. The next step is getting wins behind his lead.

He’ll look to do that against his former team on Friday at Los Angeles. And just keep in mind, it’s only November 1.