When he interviewed Spencer Dinwiddie last week, Adrian Wojnarowski described Dinwiddie as one of three successful Nets reclamation projects, the others being Joe Harris AND D’Angelo Russell. Woj is right. Russell may not have been a second rounder cast aside for Nets to pick up like the other two, but when he arrived a No. 2 overall pick with issues, DLo was seen by many as poison. It didn’t help that he had been traded for perhaps the most popular Net since Jason Kidd and Vince Carter.
As he departed LaLa Land, he was trashed by one of the game’s all time greats for a lack of leadership. Rumors spread that he was “uncoachable.” Kenny Atkinson, long one of Russell’s biggest supporters, called those rumors a “myth” on Sunday. And as Sarah Kustok said during the game, Nets coaches, performance team, teammates all love him.
Now, he’s having his moment, or at least a moment, in his development. He is carrying the Nets through injuries and back-to-backs to within a game of .500 and the seventh seed in the East. In his last four games, he’s averaging 26.5 points and 7.5 assists, while shooting 35.1 percent from three. In his last ten, the numbers are equally impressive: 21 points and 7.4 assists.
This is the guy Sean Marks traded for in his signature move. Put aside all the discussions of how the Nets will keep him and sign a free agent —fans are never cognizant of all the machinations GM’s can pull in July. He’s playing out of his mind right now and the Brooklyn Nets are his beneficiary.
There’s a lot to cite on this from recent quotes provided by his coach and teammates. But our favorite is the one that caps off Michael Scotto’s profile of his development in The Athletic.
“We’re winning,” Russell said Friday. “I can speak for myself. I haven’t won a lot in this league, so for me to get that type of success I’m going to stick with it.”
Scotto compiled a number of (anonymous) quotes from scouts around the league on whether DLo’s moment can be sustained. Two of the three believe it not only can be sustained, but that it’s real.
“D’Angelo has had a good year,” an Eastern Conference scout told The Athletic. “The talent is legit, just had to mature from the wake-up call from his Lakers days. The coaching staff has done a great job with not only him but (Spencer) Dinwiddie, (Joe) Harris, LeVert, (Jarrett) Allen, (Rondae) Hollis-Jefferson. They are creating a track record of player development. I don’t think it’s a contract hustle.”
“I think it’s sustainable,” a Western Conference scout told The Athletic. “He’s a really good player who had to grow up very quickly in LA, and there was very little patience. He’s maturing and coming into his own. It’s a perfect situation for him because he’s been able to play through his mistakes and be a confident shot taker even if he isn’t the most efficient shot maker.”
The third scout wasn’t buying it but his comment seemed more off-hand ... and dated.
“I have never been the biggest fan, so I lean towards this being a one-season thing,” a separate Western Conference scout told The Athletic.
More importantly is what Atkinson has said. Atkinson has worked long and hard with Russell and the two have mutual respect.
“I think he’s really finding that nice niche between scoring and finding open guys whether it’s on the perimeter in the pick-and-roll, and I would say the other thing is he looks fresh,” Atkinson told reporters Sunday.
Fresh on so many levels, including his on-court leadership. That vision, as Atkinson has noted on more than one occasion, is “elite.” As for the other things, including that coachable deficit, the Nets coach, unlike Magic Johnson and Byron Scott, is calling bullshit.
“A myth. From Day 1, I’ve seen none of that. He’s been receptive, accepting, you can coach him,” Atkinson said. “Now, sometimes — because he’s a smart player — he’ll have some feedback. But it’s not a stubbornness, it’s not a ‘Listen, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ It’s more like ‘OK, I see this, too.’
“You can have a conversation with him. But I’d say just his receptiveness to coaching and veteran leadership, I give him a 10 out of 10. And it keeps him improving, obviously as he plays better it’s getting better and better.”
Strong words. Oh yeah, one other thing: he’s 22!
- Has D’Angelo Russell turned the corner in his development? - Michael Scotto - The Athletic New York