At the end of Monday’s game in Phoenix, D’Angelo Russell could have stood at halfcourt and reprised Paul Pierce’s (only) memorable line from his time in Brooklyn.
“This is why they got me here,” Pierce shouted after he hit a clutch jumper in the Nets Game 1 win over Toronto in the 2014 playoffs.
And Russell’s fourth quarter performance in a lesser, worse played game Monday is why Sean Marks brought him here. All of 21 years old, D’Angelo Russell knows how to take over a game, star it up, and win.
It was far more important, far more telling than anything said or written over the weekend when Russell returned to L.A., leading to a paroxysm of analysis and hand-wringing about his time with the Lakers.
Russell showed he can lead. “It wasn't,” as Kenny Atkinson said post game, “the prettiest game ever played in the NBA,” but it showed what Russell can do when a game is on the line: He created offense and scored 13 of his 23 points in the fourth and dished four of his nine assists as well.
What is so often lost in all the discussion of Russell is how young he is. He won’t turn 22 until February. He is younger than 29 of the 60 selections in the 2017 NBA Draft (including Kyle Kuzma, by the way), younger than 40 of the 60 plus players the Nets had in for workouts prior to the NBA Draft. He is not a finished product.
Russell, after Monday night, is averaging 21.3 points, 5.6 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and has a 20.41 player efficiency rating. That’s nearly seven points, one and a half assists and a rebound better than what he did in L.A. despite playing one fewer minute.
As Mike Meltz of the Glue Guys notes, if Russell finishes the season with those numbers, he’s in elite company. Here’s the full list of players who have done that at 22 years old or younger...
Per 36, he’s averaging 27.5 points, 7.2 assists and 6.6 rebounds. The point total alone is sixth in the NBA.
Maybe DLo will never escape his first two years with the Lakers, his Snapchat moment with Nick Young, Magic Johnson’s comparison of him to Lonzo Ball (who is all of 20 months younger), and the endless discussions of his maturity or lack of same.
But that’s not what Sean Marks — or his teammates — care about. It’s not what Kenny Atkinson saw last night when he put the team on his back (and coached the hell out of him). What they care about, what they saw is a player who can be the face of a franchise.
He is going to have bad games, maybe Tuesday night in Denver. He will probably wind up on Page Six. He’s 21 years, eight months, and 17 days old. He’s a kid. But Monday night served as a template of why Marks traded Brook Lopez, Kuzma’s rights, and took on Timofey Mozgov’s contract. It’s why they brought him here.