At last, the Nets pulled the trigger Thursday and started D’Angelo Russell night, his first start since November when he hurt his knee and underwent arthroscopic knee surgery.
Little by little, he’s shaking off the rust, and as of late, he’s gotten better.
Russell finished with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting 7-of-16 —2-of-7 from deep— 32 minutes of action against the Charlotte Hornets. Not bad but not an outstanding performance, but he’s closer to where he was in November when averaging more than 20 points per game, launching himself into early All-Star debates. The 32 minutes, in fact, were the most he’s played since the injury on November 11 and it was his fourth straight double figure scoring.
Starting D’Lo after the break, along with Spencer Dinwiddie, may have seemed like it was part of a plan, but Kenny Atkinson insisted after Friday’s practice that it was more of a feel.
“I think it was a feel, kind of my feel,” he said. “Talking with the medical team and performance (team). I think it was mostly basketball, just him getting his rhythm, and I felt like that Indiana game he really showed me – I felt like he was getting there.”
In that Indiana game, the last before the break, Russell had 18 points and 9 assists (with only 1 turnover) while shooting 50% from the floor and making all four free throw attempts in the loss to the Pacers.
It capped off a three-game stretch where Russell averaged 18.3 points and 6.3 assists in 28.4 minutes. Now, after Thursday, he’s at 18.5 and 6.0. Consistency, consistency, consistency.
He’s not at peak level yet, though, says Atkinson.
“Tough to say,” he adds on when Russell will get there. “I know he’s moving a whole heck of a lot better from the first game back to now, and that’s really what it’s about, like how’s he moving. But even last night I felt like he was much more confident, too.
“Because I feel like, coming back from an injury, there’s some stuff that goes with that. It’s not only just a move, it’s the mental part of your basketball rhythm but we feel like he’s getting there. I don’t want to put a number on it but he knows he’s not there and we know he’s not there. That’s a positive for us, is that he’s going to continue to get better as we finish this thing out.”
He will need to if the Nets are going to salvage much from this season. They now have 41 losses, as many as any team in the NBA and risk having the worst record in the league again for the second straight season.