D’Angelo Russell Sink or Swim Time

Nets New Faces: Kenneth Faried, Dzanan Musa (R), Shabazz Napier, Rodions Kurucs (R), Jared Dudley, Ed Davis, Treveon Graham

Nets 2017-18  Ugly:  30th: Steals. 29th: Field Goal Percentage, Two-Point Attempts. 28th: Points Allowed. 25th: Turnovers. 23rd: 3-Point Defense. 22nd: Defensive Rating. 21st: Offensive Rating. 20th: 3-Point Percentage.

Nets 2017-18 Beauty: 6th: Pace. 9th: Defensive Rebounding, Total Rebounding, Assists.

Nets Leading Scorer 2017-18: D’Angelo Russell, 15.5 ppg

Nets Leading Defensive Rating 2017-18: Jarrett Allen, 108

The Nets are finally free of their disastrous charity consequences. Handing over unprotected draft picks to the Celtics is behind them. Last season, they were a volume three point shooting team but weren’t very good at it. Their D’Angelo Russell gamble didn’t pay off either as they were handed damaged goods and Russell played half the season. He had some really atrocious numbers after his injury and the Russell question mark remains. Who is he?

Russell was supposed to give the Nets a bright light, a player they could market and build their team around. Finally, they had an identity and a player that fit. Scrap that. When Russell went down, Spencer Dinwiddie stepped in and up and ran the show. He carried the Nets in emotion, game winners and just plain alpha dog. When Russell returned, he didn’t quite blend in.

This is Russell’s extension year but a 41% scorer doesn’t inspire much. His three ball took a huge dive, 32%, and since that is all the Nets do he was responsible for part of their offensive mess.

This time last year, the Lakers no longer needed D’Angelo Russell because they drafted Lonzo Ball. At the end of the Lakers season, Magic Johnson told reporters that the 2018 summer was the biggest of Lonzo Ball’s life. Same can be said of Russell.

What he does in 2018-19 will determine where his career is headed. Right now, he is a failed #2 draft pick, nothing near All-Star game. He’s a good player but not one you can depend on, night in and night out. And he’s not versatile.  We will see how much Russell took what happened to him in Brooklyn serious. He needs to have put in a dominant summer workout program ala Victor Oladipo who transformed his body and his game to become an All-Star and lead the Pacers to the post season. What exactly is beating in Russell’s chest? The Nets will find out.

Russell has never been an efficient scorer and last season’s 41% proved that.  The Nets backcourt with the addition of Shabazz Napier and the exile of Jeremy Lin isn’t what you call lights out. Napier is solid and coachable and is a good off the bench second quarter player who isn’t going to screw things up and plays the team game. But Russell is the only iso player the Nets really have. He can, if he has settled into basketball maturity, take the Nets and his game, to another level.

Year three of the Sean Marks era is here and he has no excuses anymore except perhaps another tank year to get better talent. The Nets don’t have a playoff roster surrounding Russell and he has a lot of pressure. The Nets vague outline of the Warriors with  lot of three point shooting and not a lot of three point making will be under the microscope with all eyes on Russell. He likes it like that.

This much is clear. The Nets are a long way from the playoffs. Their best players are too young. They have to learn how to play together and their defense is abysmal which means a lot of 120 points by the opponent.

The question is going to be can Russell stay healthy? And can he make shots? And does he exhibit the kind of leadership the Nets need?

The Nets have very little hype outside of what Russell generates on social media. As someone who likes headlines, pressure, drama and has an over-sized ego, the Nets were a perfect place to land after a Lakers failure and a public diss by Magic Johnson. Russell tried but couldn’t live up to the expectations and his knee sabotaged his season.

The Nets still need a player like Russell, one who says look at me.  But do they need a player that plays like him?

Clearly, Brooklyn is his redemption song but it’s not as simplistic as many believe. There was a lot to hide behind in L.A. Not so here. He can’t duck pressure, no blame game, no other players to obliterate the sun. Russell’s career will be made or will be broken in Brooklyn. That alone makes the Nets season intriguing. Will this be Russell’s last year in New York?