“I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with,” Magic Johnson said after trading D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn.
Well, Magic, Brooklyn appears to have a message for you: players here want to play with D’Angelo Russell. Players in Brooklyn believe D’Angelo Russell is going to make them better, mainly because of his court vision.
As the season gets closer, it sounds like the consensus in the locker room is that Russell will be running the show. It’s not hard finding quotes from DLo’s new teammates on the topic
“I think a really underrated part of his game is his passing,” Caris LeVert told Taylor Rooks of CBS Sports. “Coming out (of Ohio State) everyone knew he was a great passer. That’s kind of overlooked now. He’s someone who everyone would love to play with. He finds guys naturally. That’s like a sixth sense that not a lot of people have.”
“He wants to win more than people give him credit for. I know he has a lot of people to prove wrong. I know he will prove a lot of people wrong,” LeVert said in an interview with Fred Kerber of the Post.
LeVert and Russell are crucial in Brooklyn’s rebuilding process. They’re both seen as the “untouchables” on this roster, and very likely to be starting side-by-side soon enough.
The praise didn’t end there…
“Nothing but good things with D’Angelo,” Nets rookie Jarrett Allen told NetsDaily when asked about his new teammate. “He’s great with the ball, makes good decisions and makes really good passes. He’s going to find me.”
Even Jeremy Lin, who may be supplanted as the 1, had good things to say about him on his Asia trip.
“He's good. Got a chance to meet him out in Vegas for Summer League... I can't wait to play with him. We're going to do some serious damage next year,” Lin said in one of the conversations where he predicted the playoffs.
Lin sees the two as interchangeable.
“When one of us is out of the game, the other will most likely have the ball in their hands, So it'll be a little bit Kemba-ballesque. Kinda a little me-and-Kembaish,” Lin said referring to his time in Charlotte playing with Kemba Walker.
And the guy who rescued DLo from Magic Johnson is happy with his work.
“We like his size. We like his passing ability. And the more I get to know D'Angelo, the more I like the person. We've spent a lot of time together and I think he fits with how we want to play. So we're excited there,” Sean Marks told Joel Myers and Tim Legler of SirusXM.
So what’s all this fuss about? We analyzed this highlight reel of some of Russell’s best passes in Los Angeles.
He likes to run as soon as he gets the ball. This is obviously crucial for a team that played at the fastest pace in the league. His work in the pick and roll is a thing of beauty. This will enhance Atkinson’s motion offense because it gives him more promising offensive sets and more weapons to work with. Russell can create for others and find them in a roll or pop situation, or create for himself.
Russell makes fast decisions and he doesn’t hesitate when driving to the hole or running the fast break. That’s what the Nets want: playmaking guards (as well as playmaking forwards, playmaking centers, etc.). He’s going to push the ball in the open floor and create for himself and others.
Russell easily finds slashers and guys cutting baseline... It’s like he knows where they’re going to be before they’re even there - hence why he’s able to pull off the no-look passes. It’s a rare gift. Guys are always moving off the ball in the motion offense. Get open and the ball will be there. That’s not the way the Lakers play.
This should bode very well for the lanky and athletic rookie Allen, who voluntarily expressed his excitement to play with Russell.
“Being 6’10” and athletic I’ll be doing a lot of pick-and-rolls with D’Angelo [Russell] – set him good screens, roll to the basket or pop and let him do his work and lob it up to me eventually,” Allen told NetsDaily.
Players clearly want to play with him because he’ll make them better. Unsolicited, they mention him as somebody who’s impressed the most in the Nets workouts at HSS.
And they just like him.
“Working out with him, even off the court a bit, he’s a great dude,” Joe Harris told CBS Local. “He’s got a bad rap in the other part of his career. He’s a hard working dude, really low key. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s a really nice guy.”
The subtext behind these quotes is that Russell might start at the 1, with Lin playing sidekick as he did in Charlotte. The front office is very high on ‘DLo’. He is after all, 21 and Lin is 29. Also, Lin can become a free agent after this season, and the main priority is development. Russell IS the franchise’s long-term priority.
What about short term? Can the Lin and Russell duo work as well as the Lin and Kemba Walker duo, or will it be like it was in Houston, with him and James Harden, which did not work. This may very well be Kenny Atkinson’s biggest challenge in his second year as a head coach, even if we keep hearing about “sharing” the role. If Russell is finding the open guy, the way he’s said to have in practice, expect Lin off the ball… a lot.
Russell won’t talk about that. He makes a different point, a broader one.
“It goes back to the chip on my shoulder. I wouldn’t say, ‘it’s D’Angelo’s team’ or anything like that, but I feel like it’s up for everybody to make their imprint as a team. Me coming in with a chip on my shoulder, A.C. [Allen Crabbe] coming in with a chip on his shoulder, I feel like we’re going to blend together and we’re going to be a great team. As long as we’re making strides that’s all I could really ask for.”
He’s also noted that he’s putting in the extra effort to be the leader.
“I would say hanging out with somebody different all the time. Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] I try to see what he’s doing after practice. Same with Caris [LeVert], Isaiah [Whitehead]. I try to sprinkle in and spend time with everybody after practice and find something to do.”
We don’t want to keep bringing up Magic Johnson’s comments because his word means little to nothing in Brooklyn. But don’t think those words won’t stick with the 21-year-old, particularly when they play the Lakers on November 3.
He will be the anchor in turning this thing around or not. The Nets, front office and coaching staff get how important he is. He is already the face of the Nets, despite their team-first mentality. And yes, players will want to play with him because he’s going to make them better (and a lot of money). He also gets that he needs to understand his role better than he did in L.A.
"I think guys enjoyed playing with me," Russell told Zach Lowe. "Now I'm going to make sure they do instead of not really taking it into consideration.