D’Angelo Russell is no longer loading. His time is now (or N:0W?)
With Jeremy Lin on his way out, this leaves little doubt that this team goes wherever Russell takes it. Plagued by injury last season, Russell hasn’t really gotten the chance to assert himself as “the guy” in Brooklyn. He missed 34 games last season and the Nets have now added pieces that should help them in certain areas.
Despite some bumps and bruises along the way, he sounds like he’s ready.
“I want to be that point guard or better yet, lead guard when I have the ball in my hands. I want to develop that trust with the coaches and the players around met that I’m going to make the right play when the ball is in my hands, especially at the end of games. I want to show that I can finish it out,” Russell told NetsDaily.
The Nets are extremely high on Russell. They’re enamored of many parts of his game, but none more than his court vision. The ball is going to be in his hands. He wants it there. They want it there.
There will be no interchangeable talk between Lin and DLo the way they discussed last season and even this off-season – a combo that played exactly one game together. And it’s unlikely we see much of DLo and Spencer Dinwiddie together now that Brooklyn only has two ‘true’ point guards.
Don’t get it confused though. This isn’t just “D’Angelo Russell’s team.” The Nets take pride in playing team ball and egos are supposed to be checked at the door. That said, they go wherever he takes them.
Moreover, they were competitive despite injuries and despite voids in several areas. They played 49 games in which they were ahead or within five points with five minutes left. Problem is they often fell apart in those last five minutes.
Brooklyn fans are ready for DLo to take the city by storm. The only way that happens is if we see the fearless DLo, the ice-in-my-veins DLo. He knows it.
“We lost a handful of games we lost by single digits – I want to be that guy that makes the big pass or hits the big shot that helps us win those games,” Russell said in the same interview with NetsDaily.
Others inside the organization and on the team know what Russell is capable of. When Russell returned after his absence last season, nine-year veteran DeMarre Carroll told a relatively small group of reporters, “We go wherever D’Lo takes us.”
Carroll has been one of DLo’s biggest supporters. The two came to Brooklyn last summer and Carroll has played the big brother role since the two met. He reiterated his comments after the season when he essentially called him the team’s most talented player.
“His talent – nobody in this room or arena will question his talent. You just want him to do it consistently. D’Angelo is probably the closest thing we have to an all-star on our team if he did it consistently.”
That’s the word everybody uses when talking about DLo: Consistency. Obviously they need Russell to be the No. 1 option on offense, but he’s going to have off games. He’s only human.
The question is, how does he do it consistently in other areas? Does he run back on defense and stick with his assignment? Does he cut down on the turnovers? Does he put his head down after a miss or does he stay positive and vocal? These are the questions that need to be answered when it comes to D’Angelo taking that next step as a leader.
His numbers speak loud for such a young player. Last season, he averaged 15.5 points and a career-high 5.2 assists in 25.7 minutes per game. His per 36 minutes averages were an impressive 21.7 points and 7.3 assists. Compare that to Damian Lillard, who averaged 21.2 points and 6.2 assists per 36 minutes in his third season.
This chart from March shows “GNG” – an analytical tool used to compare players. It uses topological data analysis which builds a node graph of all the players based off these inputs and sticks them together based off how similar they are. In this case, Russell found himself in good company with Chris Paul, Eric Bledsoe, John Wall and Tyreke Evans. The difference? His minutes were much lower than the others he was grouped with. (Thanks to ND user abresler for the findings).
Off the floor, he has said and done all the right things since being traded here. Now it’s time to show why he’s valued so much. It’s the most important season of his young career and the most important season since Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson took over.
With the team entering next season with two max slots, they need to be competitive. Plain and simple. There can be no tanking. They need to show they have the pieces and it starts with Russell. This is the most important season since Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson took over.
Russell, 22, is entering his contract year. He’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. He has a career average of 14.6 points and 4.3 assists, but he hasn’t taken that next step just yet. Furthermore, there are concerns about his health. The left knee injury that kept him out of 34 games last season is the same knee he hurt the season before. He has to show he’s fully healthy if he wants the big payday.
There are no concerns with his talent or work ethic. In recent weeks, he’s also shown leadership, being first in the gym and often last to leave, taking Dzanan Musa under his wing, guiding him through Brooklyn and New York. Not a small deal for someone who’d never visited the U.S. before the NBA Draft.
Nobody is calling playoffs yet, but with the East getting weaker and the Nets building momentum off continuity, they have a chance to shock the NBA.
But that only happens if D’Angelo Russell takes them there.