After being dealt by the Lakers last season, D’Angelo Russell is now playing like an all-star. The deal that sent Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma to LA in return for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov has worked out beautifully for the Nets. Last season was a roller coaster for Russell. Constant injuries prevented him from showing anything more than a few flashes of his potential. Now, Russell has managed to stay healthy the entire season and has finally found his role with the Nets. Although Russell missed the cut in my Eastern All-Star predictions, his recent play has caused me to rethink my selections. Since Dwayne Wade is basically a lock, Ben Simmons may just miss the cut for the All-Star game. There are clear reasons why Russell edges him out.
For starters, Russell has picked up his play significantly as of late. In his last 12 games, Russell has averaged 24.8 PPG on 51-43-91 splits. In that stretch, he has also passed out 7 assists per game while only turning the ball over 2.5 times per game. While Russell has been putting up these amazing stats the Nets have been 8-4. They are currently the 6th seed due to Russell’s incredible play. Russell has had plenty of big individual performance to go along with his impressive averages. He has scored 30+ points in 4 of the last 12 games, including a 40-point outing in a narrow win against the Magic. Playing this well right before the All-Star game is usually enough to earn a selection.
Speaking of improvements, Russell has looked like a completely different player this season, improving in almost every major statistical category. He’s averaging more points per game, more threes made per game, better shooting percentages across the board, more assists, and fewer turnovers. The biggest improvement for Russell has been his 3-point shooting. His game relies heavily on the 3-point shot as 45% of his shot attempts are from behind the arc. Other score-first point guards, such as Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard, only attempt 35% and 40% from three, respectively. The only starting point-guards to rely more heavily on the three are Stephen Curry and Kemba Walker. This is why Russell’s 5.5% increase in his three-point percentage is so critical for his success as a scoring threat.
D’Angelo Russell Season Averages: 19.2 PPG (44/38/81), 6.4 APG, 1.1 SPG
Arguably more important to Russell and the Nets’ success has been his improvement as a passer. To be an effective point guard that experiences success deep into the playoffs, being able to pass is critical. Last season, Russell had 5.2 APG, but he also turned the ball over 3.1 times a game. The result was a 1.68 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is considered lackluster for a starting point guard. This season, he’s averaging 1.2 more assists per game and his turnovers are also down. His improved court vision has allowed Russell’s assist-to-turnover ratio to improve to 2.29, which is similar to other talented starting guards.
His improved play and recent hot streak make him deserving of an all-star selection in my eyes. Also, being the best player on a team exceeding expectations improves his case. In addition to his potential all-star selection, Russell’s future with the Nets is an interesting subject. The Nets signed their sixth-man and backup point guard, Spencer Dinwiddie, to a 3-year $39 million extension causing some to question if he would be their point guard going forward. If Russell continues his great play, it is likely that he and Dinwiddie will both remain on the Nets and play together in the backcourt. Russell’s improved 3-point shooting makes him a great off-ball scorer if the team wants Dinwiddie to handle the ball.
Although the duo has not been incredibly successful together, there are signs they can make it work. Dinwiddie has only had consistent playing time for the last 3 seasons and Russell for the past 4, so there is room for improvement with each player. Also, when they play with veterans such as DeMarre Carroll, Ed Davis, and Jared Dudley, their net rating has been very impressive. I believe as the talent around them improves and each player matures individually, they will both play a crucial role in the Nets’ future success.
Still, Russell’s contract situation this offseason should be interesting. Since he is a restricted free agent the Nets will be able to match any deal, but with all the bad money from the 2016 offseason coming off the books, a team may throw him a ridiculous offer sheet. If the Magic, Knicks, and Suns all strike out on big time free agents, they may look at Russell as their point guard of the future. While the Nets may be hesitant to match, they will have plenty of cap space to keep Russell around.
Russell’s play as of late should serve as a beacon of hope to Nets fans. The Nets front office took many low-risk, high-reward deals, such as Russell, and found great success. After the devastation of the Billy King trade, the Nets are on the right path once again. With Russell, Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Rodions Kurucs, and Jarrett Allen, the Nets are stocked with young talent. If Russell’s all-star play continues this team will become a must-watch for many years.