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D’Angelo Russell on Most Improved Player: ‘I’m going to win it’

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

D’Angelo Russell doesn’t lack for confidence at this moment of his career. He is breaking team and even NBA records —like becoming the youngest player to hit 500 three pointers— as his team continues its surprising run.

And he has his top goal clearly in reach, as he told Anthony Puccio, writing for SNY.

“I’m gonna win that s--t. Watch. Put it on record. I’m gonna win it,” he told Pooch, who offered the names of other worthy candidates. Didn’t make much of an impression. “I’m telling you, I’m winning it!”

And why not? The former No. 2 overall pick is having the best year of his career, averaging 20.5 points and 6.7 assists on 37 percent shooting from three entering Monday’s game -- all career-high’s during a contract year.

DLo explained his improvement.

“It’s all mental. This game, becoming great… it’s all mental,” Russell told SNY when asked about the difference in his game. “Diet and things like that -- things people don’t see. It’s something I had to learn when I got here.

“I was used to playing ball and letting things come to me. You come into this league and you know you got to work hard and get in the gym, but there’s more to it. I think I’ve worked on some things and I know I’m not perfect. But I want to be great and a big part of that is the mental aspect. I’ve always been confident, but this is the most confident I’ve been in my career.”

Indeed.

Ed Davis sees it as well ... and after playing with him, the veteran dismisses the bad rep that initially followed him from L.A.

“So, me and him have the same agent. When I signed here, my agent talked to me from day one and was like, ‘Man he’s a good kid, he just needs a little guidance, somebody who’s going to stay in his ear. You know, things like that. Then I talked to Evan Turner and he said the same thing, ‘Just help him out. He can play, he just needs some guidance,’” Davis said.

”You know all that s--t from the past… I haven’t seen it. Either he’s doing a great job of hiding it or a lot if it is just bulls--t. That happens a lot in this league. Me and him are tight and have a good relationship. All that stuff in the past… man, I don’t know.”

And Davis, a former Laker himself, thinks the Lakers’ brain trust probably isn’t enjoying what they’ve been seeing out of Russell in Brooklyn.

“He was 19 years old, No. 2 overall pick, man. A lot of money is involved,” Davis added. “There’s gonna be some bumps and most of these teams are so quick to give up on a guy. Magic [Johnson] and [Rob] Pelinka are regretting that right now.”

Russell may not talk about the “incident” with Nick Young or how Magic Johnson, an idol, had dumped on him as he departed La La Land. But that claim by Johnson that DLo isn’t a leader still sticks in his craw.

“I’m a leader,” Russell told Pooch adamantly. “I want to be put into those spots and now I’m earning more trust. That dude who came into the league with the ice in my veins … that’s who I’ve always been. That’s who I want to be and it’s all part of the mental growth. I wasn’t getting the ball late in games or really even playing at points, so to be out there and doing what I do, closing out games, it feels good. We’re a playoff team, aren’t we?”

And at this point, none of that can be denied. By most measures, he’s among the league’s best clutch players and he has led his team through a lot of injury and adversity to a solid situation.

He also sought out other leaders in the NBA — the best, actually.

“He told me about the mental aspect of the game,” Russell says about his conversation with LeBron James. “You have it, now go get it. It’s all a mental test, getting through the season, playing 82 games and things like that. It’s an adjustment, man. This is what the league is. I appreciated that from him.”

Dwyane Wade told him a lot of the same things. Now he’s molding them to suit his situation.

Jared Dudley said he’s gotten help closer to home as well.

“It’s the culture. This is how it is here, and it goes beyond D’Angelo, it’s Joe [Harris], Caris [LeVert], Jarrett [Allen]. Even when I got here, it was late, but they put you in the program and they’re on you. We do a survey every night, 10 questions asking about your body and things like that. D’Angelo really took it serious.”

Can Russell succeed in his dream to be named the Most Improved Player? He has no doubt.

“I don’t care who else is on that list. I’m winning it, believe it.”