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Nets look at D’Angelo Russell as a star ... but in the making

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New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Just a little touch, just a little touch of star quality. That line — stolen from a Broadway show— is what the Nets have long hoped they will get from D’Angelo Russell. They want a hit.

They didn’t trade away Brook Lopez, the draft rights to Kyle Kuzma and take on Timofey Mozgov’s massive contract to acquire an average guard or even a very good guard. They wanted something more and they think, with some development, some pushing, they will get one.

How big of a star? Kenny Atkinson talked to reporters about it Friday.

“There’s been some debate: Is he a 2-guard? Is he a scoring guard? In the NBA now, as a guard, you’ve got to be able to do both.

“He’s just got to find that balance. I remember Steve Nash, he’d go get 30 if they were playing a certain way, and the next game he’d get 10 points and 20 assists. It’s just finding that niche and understanding what the defense is giving you. And that’s where he’s got to make his improvement game to game.”

That’s a pretty big star. How does he get there. Atkinson thinks he knows how it works, but while others of late have been critiquing DLo’s game, his coach is looking at the positives, starting with his passing.

“Listen, he has elite vision. Not average vision, not good vision, elite vision,” Atkinson said. “He makes passes that you have to rewind it two or three times on the tape to see how did he get it without a lot of effort. Obviously a good distributor. I always tell him, ‘You’re a little too high-risk.’ If he could just get down to two or three turnovers.

“It’s a mentality. He has to just understand the high-risk ones we’ve got to eliminate. Obviously he can score the ball. He’s still finding himself as a player in this league. But I love the passing part. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be around eight to 10 assists every game.”

Yes, there’s the downside of that flash, that vision. A high turnover rate and Russell may be trying to do too much. Before he went down with his knee injury, he was averaging 21, 5 and 5. Now, with limited minutes after coming back and up-and-down performances, he’s down to 15.8, 5 and 4, all still career highs.

The Nets like that he has taken responsibility for getting better ... and for his mistakes, as he did after the Kings game.

“Myself turning the ball over really hurt us. We were going tit for tat, bucket for bucket, just got to be better. We easily win this game if I didn’t turn the ball over,” Russell said. “I just turned the ball over in general. No excuse for that.”

No excuse, but Atkinson still likes what he sees and what he thinks he can see down the road.

“It’s a catch-22, right? You love those fantastic passes, but some are just too high-risk,” Atkinson said. “So we’re working on that. That’s a lot of film work, it’s a lot of one-on-one conversations.”

Expect those conversations to continue for a while. He’s still got another year on that rookie deal.