• Jac Manuell

All In On D'Lo

The injury to D’Angelo Russell could not have come at a worse time. He was just getting into a rhythm after having two of his best games of the season against Portland and Utah. He is now out for an undetermined amount of time after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. GM Sean Marks gave no timetable to when the young guard will return but said he expects him to come back before the end of the season. Recovery from such a surgery takes around two months give or take, but the Nets’ will likely take an ultraconservative approaching with their budding franchise piece. With Russell out for an extended period of time let’s take a look at how he’s played and how he’s fitting in with his new team.

D’Lo started off the season with a bang putting up 30 points and 5 assists, going 50% from three, in Brooklyn’s 140-131 loss to Indiana. He followed that up with a hit-and-miss performance in the team’s win over the Magic. Yes the box score looked pretty good (17 points, 6 assists, 3 steals), but he also had a lofty 8 turnovers. He had an additional 8 turnovers in his worst game of the season against Denver. Those turnovers create easy offense for the opposing team and for Russell it’s a learning process as evidenced by the comments of teammate, DeMarre Carroll:

“He’s trying to fit his way in, know when to attack, when to make the play… So right now he may be overthinking it a bit.”

In the limited time he’s had on court the talent of Russell’s talent has been on show though he’s diverted his focus to being a good teammate; almost to his own detriment. He’s an underrated passer; in 8 of his 12 games he’s had 5 assists or more, but knowing when to hold the ball, make the easy pass, or attack and score is a dilemma that Russell is continuing to battle. With the support he’s had from his teammates and coaching staff you can bet he’s going to figure it out when he comes back, sooner rather than later.

Another key moment in his short Brooklyn career was the return to Los Angeles. Russell played well without being remarkable: 17 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 turnovers. He clearly outmatched the new Lakers’ ‘leader’, Lonzo Ball who posted a relatively miserly line of 6 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. His team did get the last laugh getting the win, 124-112.

The highlight of his year came in the Nets’ win over Portland where Russell took over in the last quarter, scoring 11 points including some absolute money plays:

He’s a long way from catching an established star in Damian Lillard, but moments like that are encouraging for D’Angelo and Nets’ fans alike.

A lot of question marks around Russell’s game have centered on his defense. Coach Kenny Atkinson has had no qualms with him on that side of the floor, via NBA.com:

“I love how he defends… I think he’s come a long way. I think he’s come a long way with his strength, physical standpoint. He’s gotten stronger, he’s got more confident. We put him on sometimes the best wing when it’s the end of game, because he’s agile, he understands defense.”

The statistics don’t necessarily reflect that though. In ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus he is ranked 80th out of a possible 87 point guards while on the offensive side he ranks in the top half at 30th. When taking both sides of the ball into account he ranks 54th in overall RPM. On the Nets’ roster his offensive rating isn’t much better (100) though he is the team’s highest scorer, adding 34.7 points per 100 possessions. He’s also the second highest scoring player per game in the NBA aged 21 or younger, behind his good friend, Devin Booker. That’s going to be the constant battle throughout his career, the balance between offense and defense.

D’Lo has all the tools to become a great NBA player. A major reason why that is likely is not just because of his individual gifts but the support he has from the Nets’ organisation as a whole. In Los Angeles that was the biggest difference, where only some teammates had his back and coaches actively called him out. His former coach, Byron Scott, said back in May that he was unsure of the work ethic and maturity of the young guard:

“I don’t know if his work ethic has gotten any better… The maturity level will catch up to him sooner or later when he realises it’s an honour and a privilege to be in the NBA.”

To be fair to Russell, he didn’t have the people around him pushing him to be successful. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week you would have seen that another former assistant coach, Brian Shaw, continued to pile on the criticism on D’Angelo:

While Russell has to take some ownership of his behaviour, as a young player finding his way in the NBA, the leadership and support provided to him in LA was lacklustre to say the least. Whether it was the coaching staff or the playing group (looking at you Nick Young) that was clearly evident. You compare that to the situation he finds himself in in Brooklyn, it’s night and day. Just look at the love he’s getting from current teammates despite his injury:

Coach Kenny Atkinson, also, has mentioned that it’s on him as the coach to get the best out of their new franchise cornerstone:

“I want him to get better… we’ve just got to help him… We’re in it for the long haul with him."

Like Coach Kenny, we’re all in on Russ; from the looks of it, so is he:

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