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D'Angelo Russell (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Basketball

D’Angelo Russell Poised For Breakout Season

With both himself and the Brooklyn Nets facing their biggest season yet, it’s time for D’Angelo Russell to finish loading and breakout into an All-Star.

Let’s be honest, if you’re a Brooklyn Nets fan, the past three years have not been kind to you. In that time span, the Nets are paying the price for a slew of moves made to try and contend during their first three years in Brooklyn. Trades for Gerald Wallace, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett left the Nets depleted of future assets and draft picks. Throughout the last three seasons, they finished with no more than 28 wins. Not only that, without possession of their first-round pick in those seasons drafts, the Nets future looked bleek.

Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope in the form of general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson. The Nets new management couldn’t have done a better job so far in rebuilding this franchise from nothing to something. They’ve created a culture that represents Brooklyn, gritty and hardworking. Kenny Atkinson’s biggest strength as a head coach is player development. His talent’s are showing with his development with the core of players Sean Marks has constructed despite the lack of draft picks. That core consists of Caris Levert, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Dzanan Musa, and Allen Crabbe.

However, there’s one player that is the leader of the Nets youth movement back to relevancy. That of course is D’Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in 2015 out of Ohio State from the Los Angeles Lakers. Brooklyn acquired the combo guard from the Lakers in exchange for longtime franchise icon Brook Lopez back in June of 2017.

So what is it about D’Angelo Russell that potentially makes him the savior of the Nets? Well first of all, as his draft position would say, you’d figured he’d have the highest ceiling out of all the players on their roster.  While you’d be right, would you believe me if I told you that D’Angelo’s first three years in the NBA compares well to the first three years of the careers of league MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook? Probably not, so let’s take a look at the numbers and examine the 22-year old’s progression compared to those two superstars.

D'Angelo Russell

SeasonPoints Per 36 MinutesAssists Per 36 MinutesField Goal PercentageThree-Point Percentage
2015-201616.84.2.410.351
2016-201719.66.0.405.352
2017-201821.77.3.414.324
Total18.95.6.409.344

James Harden

SeasonPoints Per 36 MinutesAssists Per 36 MinutesField Goal PercentageThree Point Percentage
2009-201015.62.8.403.375
2010-201116.42.9.436.349
2011-201219.34.2.491.390
Total17.13.3.444.370

Russell Westbrook

SeasonPoints Per 36 MinutesAssists Per 36 MinutesField Goal PercentageThree Point Percentage
2008-200916.95.9.398.271
2009-201016.98.3.418.221
2010-201122.78.5.442.330
Total18.97.6.421.274

As you can see, D’Angelo Russell’s career has progressed very similarly to James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Speaking of the former, James Harden is a very intriguing comparison in term’s of what D’Angelo Russell’s ceiling might be. Both are left handed shots that can generate offense is a multitude of ways. While D’Angelo might not have the explosiveness of a Harden, he does have other potentially elite level offensive skill. He has the passing and floor vision needed to run an offense, a still-developing, but effective shot, and the ball handling skill needed to drive the lane at will.

Despite all the potential that we see D’Angelo Russell has, that’s all it is right now. Untapped potential. Which is why the 2018-2019 NBA season is his best, and maybe last chance to solidify himself as an All-Star. One of the biggest stories this past offseason was how the Nets had created enough cap space to sign two max free agents in 2019. A free agent class that features Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Klay Thompson. Brooklyn has the potential to make some big splashes this offseason.

However, there’s one problem right now with the Nets plan. Despite the new culture they created, Brooklyn still isn’t exactly a prime landing spot that a big time star would have on their radar. They haven’t made the playoffs since the 2014-2015 season and have been seen as a laughing stock since. This is why the 2018-2019 season is the most important season the Nets have had in a long time. They need to send a message to the rest of the league. That they’re no longer the organization that let the Boston Celtics fleece them.

Believe it or not, I wouldn’t consider making the playoffs as an unrealistic expectation for this Nets team, especially in a historically weak Eastern Conference. One thing’s for sure is that finally making the playoffs should be the Nets ultimate goal for the season. Because that would solidify themselves as a destination for a prime free agent.

And this is where D’Angelo Russell comes in, who will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. If Russell fails to have the breakout season we are all hoping he will have, there is the possibility of a divorce between the two sides. But it’s in the best interest of himself and the organization that Russell finally breakouts into a perennial All-Star. A player worthy of being the second overall pick in the NBA draft. A player that a Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard would love to come and team up with. Everyone knows that to compete for championships in the NBA, you need star-power. So the Nets need D’Angelo to not only be a star player himself, but one a superstar would love to come and join.

Before we wrap this up, we have to discuss one big elephant in the room, and that is the infamous Nick Young incident. Back in 2016 when he was a rookie with the Lakers, D’Angelo Russell was caught recording a conversation between him and Nick Young about the latter cheating on his fiancée Iggy Azalea. The video went viral, and D’Angelo was blasted by the media and was isolated from his teammates for being such a snitch. After the Lakers traded D’Angelo, president of baseball operations Magic Johnson claimed he needed a leader, and Russell wasn’t that.

What does D’Angelo’s past with the Lakers have to do with his present and future with the Nets? Quite a lot when you think about it, as Russell will now be on a mission to prove Magic Johnson and his critics otherwise. To prove to the Nets that he can be trusted to be their leader on and off the court. Thankfully, not only is D’Angelo Russell working to become more of a leader, but he has completely bought into what the Brooklyn Nets are building.

D’Angelo Russell and the Brooklyn Nets both have a lot in common at this moment in time. Both have made huge mistakes in the past, mistakes that many thought they would never be able to get up from. But now here they are, right on the brink of redemption, as D’Angelo Russell will be on a mission to not only breakout into an All-Star, but lead the Brooklyn Nets back to relevancy in the NBA.

Adam Grassani
Twitter

Adam Grassani

New York & New Jersey Sports Staff Writer,
New Jersey Jackals Beat Writer
Adam Grassani
Twitter

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