Last week D’Angelo Russell said defense was his main focus. That was when his offense was cooking. Monday night, not so much. He was 5-of-17 overall, 1-of-10 (ouch) from three-point land after shooting nearly 50 percent in March earlier in the month.
So, has he improved on D? And where else should the 22-year-old get better.
Kenny Atkinson agrees that defense should be DLo’s primary focus, but wants to see so much more, as he discussed on Monday prior to the Brooklyn Nets’ victory over the Memphis Grizzles.
“Defense is first and foremost, like way above everything else,” Atkinson said of his focus on Russell’s development. “I think he’s shown improvement. I think that improvement, like with a lot of young guys, I think it’s going to come with his physical improvement. He’s got to get stronger, he’s got to move a little better, the I.Q is there, he’s got all the attributes pretty (much). 6’5”, he’s a tall guy, he can match-up with 1s and 2s, so those are two areas.”
Where else might he improve?
For Russell, turnovers are still an issue. He had three first quarter cough-ups, but got better throughout Monday’s win, not recording another turnover for the duration of the night, 29 minutes in total.
Before he went down in November, Russell was averaging five assists per game. Since he’s been back as a starter - 12 games beginning on February 22, he’s up to 5.4 assists. His turnovers are still high, a bit more than 2.5 a game, but that’s a lot better than before his injury when he was turning the ball over four times a game.
Even with his more recent success, at a season rate of 3.1 turnovers per game, he’s (still) tied for ninth in the league.
“I think taking care of the ball a little better at the end of games,” Atkinson said, talking about his improvement “wishlist” for Russell. “(Against) Philly (76ers) I think there were two turnovers like, man, just a little bit high-risk. Last game in the pick-and-roll, we turned it over and it wasn’t totally his fault because our guys didn’t come to help – those are the two big rocks for him.”
But Atkinson has also said he doesn’t want to restrain DLo, that his court vision is one of his great assets.
Also, Atkinson talked about shot selection. Russell isn’t afraid to attempt a contested jumper, with confidence at that. On Monday, a night where he shot that 1-of-10 from three, some while battling an expiring shot clock, we saw his “courage” play out in real time.
But over time, it’s improved, which has led to a handful of efficient scoring outbursts for Russell since his return, like his 32 points on 45.5% shooting (58.3% from three) against the Toronto Raptors on March 13, where he blew things open with 24 points in seven minutes including a 7-of-7 outburst from deep.
Russell has eclipsed 20 points five different times since the Nets put him back in the starting line-up, and in all but one of those, he’s shot at least 50 percent from the field.
“I love his shot selection, he’s shooting the catch-and-shoot much more,” Atkinson said, perhaps a product of playing with Spencer Dinwiddie. “I think he’s (Russell) getting to the rim more; I think his finishing is improving – a lot of good stuff there. Of course, we want perfect (laughs). You know coaches, we want more perfect.”
And he is the team’s second-youngest player.
- D’Angelo Russell finally willing to work on other side of his game - Brian Lewis - New York Post