What to Expect From D'Angelo Russell in 2017
D’Angelo Russell is one of the most polarizing young prospects in the NBA. On June 21st, the Los Angeles Lakers traded the former number two overall pick along with Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for the Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the 2017 draft. The Lakers motivation for this trade was partly inspired by their desire to clear cap space to pursue premier free agents like Paul George, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook in the summer of 2018 but it was also inspired by their lack of faith in D’Angelo Russell.
The Lakers gave up on a prospect who they thought would be a franchise player to build around. Looking at his statistical averages, it’s hard to understand why Los Angeles came to this conclusion. Russell improved on his rookie year and was relatively productive for a second year point guard.
These averages could be seen as encouraging but the biggest tipping point for the Lakers was the questions regarding his maturity. In his rookie year, Russell suffered a tumultuous relationship with former head coach, Byron Scott and was involved in an off the court scandal with teammate Nick Young. With a new head coach and President of Basketball Operations in Luke Walton and Magic Johnson respectively, the Lakers expected Russell to grow as a player and a person in his second season. But that wasn’t the case.
Upon trading Russell and drafting UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick, Magic was quoted as saying, “D'Angelo is an excellent player. He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with."
Despite the rumored maturity problems he suffered in Los Angeles, Russell has a lot of upside and could still become a star in the NBA. At 6’5, he is a big point guard who can post up or shoot over smaller players at his position and also has the size to play shooting guard. Russell has also proven to be a very capable spot up 3-point shooter with the ability to shoot off the dribble. This bodes well for Russell as the Nets ranked 4th in three point attempts per game last season. Considering the Nets’ guard depth, he should start and get plenty of minutes playing for head coach Kenny Atkinson and probably spend time playing with Jeremy Lin and Spencer Dinwiddie/Isaiah Whitehead at either guard position depending on the line-up. He’s solid scoring in the pick and roll where he can use his size and craftiness to get defenders on his hip and pull up from either behind the 3-point line or midrange.
While very talented, D’Angelo Russell also comes with his fair share of weaknesses. He is a bad defender and ranked 74th out of 81 point guards in DRPM (Defensive Real Plus Minus). He does not possess elite-level lateral quickness and being inattentive as well compounds his defensive problems. Russell has also been proven to be turnover prone as seen by his abysmal 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. In order to take the next step as a point guard, his decision-making with the ball and passing will have to improve. Another concern is Russell possesses subpar athleticism for a modern day point guard. He does not have anything close to John Wall’s quickness or Russell Westbrook’s leaping ability to help him get to or finish at the rim. With better ball handling and creative finishes these problems could be mitigated however, it may still pose a problem when he plays against premier athletes at his position.
After a messy break up with the Lakers, Russell should be eager to prove himself on a new team. The Nets are inclined to give D’Angelo Russell every chance to succeed, as he is the player with the highest ceiling by far on the Nets. In his first two years as a Laker, Russell never averaged 30 minutes a game but that is likely to change now that he is a Net. The added responsibility and expectations could help him grow as a person and a player. Russell probably won't be close to making the All-Star team this year but expect him to have a featured role in the Nets offense that will result in his numbers rising across the board.