Since returning from arthroscopic right knee surgery on January 19, D’Angelo Russell has averaged 18.0 minutes per game, all while coming off the bench.
Russell came off the bench 32 times as a rookie in 2015-16 with the Los Angeles Lakers, and 3 times last season, his final one before being dealt to Brooklyn this past summer.
Recently, it’s been a struggle.
Over those 10 contests, Russell has averaged 8.6 points and 2.8 assists in limited time, all while shooting 34% from the field and 23.5% from three-point range.
It’s not a good situation, one the Nets are still trying to figure out. And on Friday afternoon, Russell, who averaged nearly 21 points per game in 12 appearances, all star numbers even a small sample sounded as if he was asking and hoping for more minutes, without outwardly asking and hoping for more minutes.
“I mean it is what it is. I feel like it’s a situation where the performance team has a say, the coach has a say, and they go by that. I feel great, it’s up to the coaches to make those decisions,” he told reporters.
“I have no idea,” he later added, regarding whether or not he knows how many minutes he’ll play beforehand, a number mutually agreed to by the coaching staff and performance team. “Honestly, I just show up to the game and play. I don’t really worry about their communication.”
At great length, he spoke about adjusting to his role in the second unit.
“I’ve never been in that position, it’s new to me,” said Russell. “It’s a lot that goes into it. Preparation that goes into it, when you start a game you know that you’re coming out at this time – you control whatever it may be. You control getting the shooters shots, you’re controlling getting your rollers slipping little passes. You’re controlling stuff like that. But as far as playing with the second unit, there’s a lot that goes into that, especially when you’ve never done it.”
And so is Kenny Atkinson, his head coach, who has admitted he hasn’t done the best job with the handling of the situation.
“I don’t think I’ve done a great job of getting D’Angelo with that first unit a little more,” Atkinson offered. “I think it would help us, we’d be better. And keep some of our starting unit with that second group. I’ve been maybe playing them too isolated. You don’t really have a starter on that second group out there too long, and that’s all me, still figuring it out.”
According to Atkinson, the two have discussed it, reiterating that as the head coach, he’s responsible for some of the blame, but adding that Russell has got to earn his minutes.
“Yeah, we’ve talked about it. It’s like anything, I think we’re going to get there, and I think there’s a progression to it, and quite honestly, he’s got to perform better,” said Atkinson. “You’ve got to earn it a little bit. So it’s a combination of yes, I think we’ll get there, and he’s got to earn it.”
“I still think he’s getting up to speed. I think he’s still working. I think we could do a better job of, you know, he’s played basically with that second unit, we’ve got to figure out how to get him with that first unit a little more. His minutes with the first unit were pretty good. We have to balance that a little better. We have a lot of new pieces there.”
In those 10 games since returning, Russell has also averaged 2.6 turnovers per game, and in his 12 starts, he averaged a team-high 4.0. It’s a problem Atkinson wants to see addressed, not only with Russell, but team-wide.
“He’s got to tighten it up. We have to tighten it up,” Atkinson said. “Joe (Harris) had 5 (against Detroit on Wednesday) – I thought that was a difference in the game, turnovers. We really looked at it today. We’re on our guys about it – mixing him in with that first group, I think his shot selection will improve. He’s going to get there I’m confident, I know he’s a little frustrated right now but I think we knew this was going to take time.”
Russell also said he’s had discussions regarding turnovers, not just minutes.
“Yes. Definitely,” he responded when asked if he and Kenny have talked about turnovers. “It sounds clichéd but when you come back from injury and stuff like that, you’re not going to be on your p’s and q’s right away. You’re playing in whatever type of situation is different from the one you’re in. It’s definitely something I want to be better at in my turnovers, coach has definitely preached it.”