Face In a New Place: D'Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets
The rumors, wheeling and dealing have been fast and furious in the NBA this week. On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Lakers agreed to send guard D'Angelo Russell and center Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for center Brook Lopez and the No. 27 pick in Thursday night’s draft.
Lopez and Russell are the best players in the deal, and the most impactful for fantasy basketball next season. But I’m focusing on Russell, who should step into a clear lead role for Brooklyn.
After a fairly disappointing rookie season, Russell’s numbers were up across the board in 2016-17. In 63 games (60 starts), he averaged 15.6 points, 4.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. His turnovers also increased a bit playing in a faster-paced system under Luke Walton, to 2.8 per game, but that could be expected.
Russell’s usage rate went up a bit compared to his rookie season, to 26.6 percent. But he was also a bit more efficient by some measures (15.3 PER, 51.8 True Shooting Percentage, 48.3 Effective Field Goal Percentage).
Lopez is leaving a major void of offensive touches behind with the Nets. He had 29.2 percent usage rate this past season (tied for 14th in the league) and a usage rate of at least 27 percent in four of the last five seasons he has played more than 70 games. This era of the NBA is perimeter-centric, and the Nets can now move that way with Lopez gone.
The top-20 in the NBA in usage rate during the 2016-17 season starts at 28.9 percent. Russell Westbrook clearly led the pack at 41.7 percent, and his lead over second place DeMarcus Cousins (36.5 percent) was nearly as much as the gap between Cousins and 12th place LeBron James (30 percent). That said, Russell would have needed a usage rate just a little over two percent higher to finish in the top-20 of the league this past season. Reaching that benchmark should not be a problem with the Nets.
Based purely on the prospect of 30-35 minutes per game, with requisite touch and shot volume on a bad team, Russell is in line for substantial new career highs in 2017-18. There will be some bad to go with the good, unless Russell particularly starts to reign in turnovers. But fantasy value is driven by opportunity, and Russell should be allowed to work through ups and downs rather than being benched the moment he makes a mistake.
Let’s not forget Russell won’t even turn 22 until next February, and Nets’ head coach Kenny Atkinson has a solid history working with point guards (See “Linsanity”-2012). Russell’s upside and multi-category production represents a big opportunity to get value in fantasy drafts, and his average draft position will be worth watching as next season approaches.