N:0W we can say it; D’Angelo Russell is here. And why could we only say it now? Because he had that game.
Which game? Yes, that game.
Before Wednesday night, Russell, who returned as an active Brooklyn Net on January 19, had not had a DLo game, like he had at Monteverde Acaademy, at THE Ohio State University, and in selected NBA games.
His point totals since coming back? One, three, and seven, all in 14 minute appearances, followed by 14 (but with seven turnovers) in 21 minutes on January 26, and after sitting out on January 27, he netted sseven in 20 minutes against the New York Knicks, and then Wednesday night.
Oh, Wednesday night.
Russell, still coming off the bench, entered with 4:59 left in the first quarter in favor of Spencer Dinwiddie, who he later shared the floor with, albeit briefly.
In those remaining under-five first quarter minutes, Russell scored seven points and dished out an assist. By halftime, Russell had amassed 17 points and three assists in only nine minutes of play, leading the team in scoring at the time.
And by the end of the night, he finished with 22 points, five rebounds and three dimes in only 17 minutes, shooting 8-of-15 from the field, 2-of-5 from three, and 4-of-5 on free throws.
“Very encouraging,” said head coach Kenny Atkinson on Russell’s performance. “And again, you can still see some rust. You know in the beginning he had a few turnovers, but great he got his rhythm.
“Listen, I give him credit. He really pushed to play. I can’t tell you how many times he told us after the game he’s feeling great, at this point he’s feeling great. So he really pushed to play and glad for us that he did play.”
Though, he exited early in the final period, never to return, it was clear to Atkinson that we’d seen enough, though he was tempted to put Russell back out there.
“That’s why you do have to have a long-term approach. If you looked at the Knicks game, you’d be like, man he’s struggling, like I said after the game,” said Atkinson of Russell, who played 16 minutes 24 hours after logging 20 against the Knicks.
“But he did try some things. At the end of the day, that’s who he is. He’s an aggressive player with the ball. He tried it against the Knicks, didn’t work. Tonight he was obviously much, much better. I think that’s part of that catching your rhythm, you’ve got to have some failures.
“But again, I thought his catching was good,” Atkinson adds. “I thought his defense was good, just overall looks like he’s moving really well. I was debating there do we get him in at the end of the game there, but that unit out there was rolling. I thought about needing him at the end of the game, we’re going to need another ball handler, but lucky we made some plays and finished it out.”
Russell, soft-spoken and mild-mannered, at least when among media members, refrained from saying anything demonstrative in comments after his most efficient scoring show of his third season, electing to stay calm, and take the game-by-game approach.
“I give credit to the training staff, they’ve done an amazing job just getting me to this point,” he said, displaying humility to Michael Grady. “Feeling the way I feel; I give them all the credit in the world. I feel great, it’s only going to get better.”
The numbers look great in the win over Philly, but that’s not Russell’s focus. He insists that while his numbers, which had dropped precipitously since his return, were solid on Wednesday, the primary concern is getting back to full strength.
He isn’t there yet, not N:0W, but he should be S0:0N. Until then, he’s on a minutes restriction.
“I’m just trying to push my body,” he said. “I’m not really focused on stats or numbers or anything like that, I just want to push my body to see how I feel and take what the defense gives me. Every game that’s been my main focus.”