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D’Angelo Russell’s candidacy for Most Improved may depend on playoffs

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

D’Angelo Russell’s chances for the Most Improved Player award may very depend on what he and his teammates are doing on April 11. If they’re prepping for a first round match-up, his chances at the bling go up, but if they’re bagging things up in Brooklyn, it could be tougher.

There’s no doubt his numbers are worthy, as is his impact. As Michael Scotto writes Wednesday, there’s hardly a category where DLo doesn’t lead the Nets...

In a season where Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie missed a combined four months of action, Russell has missed only one game all season. The fourth-year guard leads the Nets in points (20.9), 3-pointers made (209), assists (7.0), steals (1.2), deflections (158), minutes per game (30.3), player efficiency rating (19.35) and games played (74).

And as Tommy Beer of NBC/Rotoworld notes...

Only two players in the NBA this season have scored at least 1,500 points, dished out 500+ assists and knocked down 200+ 3-pointers: James Harden and D’Angelo Russell

Then, there’s his leadership, whether on the bench or on the court, cheering on his teammates or scoring 27 points in the fourth quarter to beat Sacramento. In game after game on the road in critical settings, he’s been The Man. That may be a critical point in voters —the league’s sports writers— minds. Pascal Siakam has made bigger statistical strides, but no one sees him as the leader of the Raptors.

“Russell has been the best player on a team that’s taken a big jump,” said an Eastern Conference general manager, one of six NBA executives Scotto contacted. “He’s had an All-Star season after being ‘dumped’ for cap relief. His statistical jump is not as impactful as (Pascal) Siakam, but his impact on his team is more significant in my opinion.”

“He’s taken his game to a different level with his consistency shooting the ball and embracing his playmaking ability,” a Western Conference executive told Scotto. “Plus, he’s hit every big shot for them.”

It’s a broad field, as Scotto notes. Russell has not campaigned for the award, unlike one of his competitors, Malik Beasley of the Nuggets, but there’s no doubt he’d more than welcome it. He’s a prideful guy.

There are other factors in Russell’s favor. The Nets have already won 10 more games than last season and he’s an All-Star at 23. But nothing will likely sway voters more than taking the Nets to post-season after three years of not winning 30 games.