The Brooklyn Nets have managed to escape the abyss they were in the past few seasons thanks to one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. Finally armed with their own draft picks and a new GM, the Nets are putting the league on notice. One of the main reasons for their turnaround started the day they received a gift from the Los Angeles Lakers in the form of D’Angelo Russell.
Russell, the second pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, was selected by the Lakers to be their torchbearer once Kobe Bryant retired. While his stay in Los Angeles had its share of ups and downs on and off the court, Russell was still young and learning the game after spending one year in college. It was a learning curve and one that the Lakers were not willing to see through to the end.
In his rookie season, Russell averaged 13.3 points and 3.4 assists and questions about his leadership and desire were brought to the surface. But he was just 19 years old and playing in possibly the NBA’s biggest market with a star on his way out the door. He wasn’t set up for failure, but he also wasn’t given the best tools for stardom either.
Fast forward to the offseason of 2017 and grumblings began to surface that the Lakers wanted to draft Lonzo Ball. the issue was, they already had a young PG in Russell. News began to circulate that the Lakers wanted Ball so bad, they were willing to move Russell. But wait, was Ball that much better than Russell?
In the Lakers eyes, yes. Russell was benched for stages of the 2016 season which made it easier for Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka to make the tough call. So, Russell was sent to Brooklyn in a deal that involved Timofey Mozgov for Brook Lopez. At first, it seemed that the Lakers came out clear winners in this deal. Well, not so much anymore.
The Lakers are back on the map thanks to LeBron James. The Nets have done their rebuild the hard way by building around a young core. Last season, his first with the Nets, Russell averaged 15.5 points and 5.2 assists while shooting .414 percent from the floor. But still, he played in only 48 games. Was he durable enough to be a building block for the Nets?
This season, Russell has shown he has what it takes to be a leader, but most of all, he may be the star the Nets thought they were getting when they signed Deron Williams. Russell has the tools to be that guy, he just needed to the motivation to prove it.
As the Nets straddle the fence between good and average, its been Russell leading the charge. He’s averaging 18.7 points and 6.3 assists while shooting .431 percent from the floor. Great numbers but even better when you consider those are career highs.
So, is D’Angelo Russell is a star?
For the Brooklyn Nets–yes. As far as the NBA– he’s getting there. While some will make a comparison that Victor Oladipo made his mark in one season after being average at best with the Orlando Magic and Thunder. However, this season he’s shown that he can duplicate his success. This is what Russell has to do.
If we were to compare his stats to some of the other high-profile PG’s in the NBA, he’s up there with the best. He’s not John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving or Stephen Curry elite but he has done enough to change the fortunes of the Nets for the present and future.
The star status is coming for D’Angelo Russell. He’s right on the cusp and what it will take is for him to lead the Nets to the playoffs. A high usage rate, points per game, and assist will get you noticed, but star status is earned with winning. No one wants to follow a loser.