On June 20th, 2017, the Brooklyn Nets made a deal that could change the course of the franchise. They traded away an all-time franchise great in center Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick in the upcoming 2017 NBA draft in exchange for veteran center Timofey Mozgov, but more importantly 21 year old point guard, D’Angelo Russell.
As a franchise spurned by what may have been the worst trade in NBA history in the trading of a multitude of future first round picks to Boston in exchange for, at the time, an aging Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. Brooklyn, in the past few years, has not been able to draft great young talent because they have either had no first round draft pick or their picks have been so far back in the first round as a result of trades that they would have to find a steal at that stage of the draft, which in the NBA is like finding a diamond in the rough.
Given the situation, Sean Marks acquired a young guard who is still developing and can be given the keys to the franchise if he continues to progress with his development. Russell can be the start of something great for the Nets. While many people question his leadership and development thus far after two years in the league, Russell has quietly been progressing on an irrelevant losing Lakers team. Based off of certain facts about Russell and his stats especially in the second half of last season, they may have just stolen a star from Los Angeles.
When some people hear D’Angelo Russell’s name, they immediately think of the scandal that took place his rookie season when he immaturely took a video of then teammate Nick Young admitting that he cheated on his fiancé Iggy Azalea multiple times with many different women without Young’s knowledge of being filmed. That is where the questions of Russell’s character come into play. However, some people tend to take these young athletes and think they’re superhuman once they go pro in their respective sport. What people who analyze sports tend to forget is that at that point of D-Lo’s life, he should have been a college sophomore. But with the NBA allowing entrance into the NBA after being removed from high school for a year, young guys are flooding the league. Every 19 year old, as Russell was at the time of the incident, does stupid stuff every now and then. On the other hand, he is a professional athlete and teammate, and needs to abide by the unwritten rules of being a great teammate and friend, he admittedly messed up. Ever since then, he has done everything he can to better himself on and off the court.
Many people have also questioned Russell’s work ethic and leadership skills. The NBA is a guard driven league and a majority of the alpha dogs on teams in the NBA are guards in today’s game. With that aspect at hand, Russell is under that pressure to be a leader with his play, work ethic, and characteristics. The leadership torch was supposed to be passed to Russell when Kobe Bryant retired after Russell’s first season in the league, but it never seemed like he was the right fit in La La Land.
While most of the time a top pick in the NBA draft is given the hype when they enter the league, D’Angelo never got that because of Kobe’s farewell tour during the 2015-2016 season. Russell couldn’t establish himself right away as that leader of the pack, as most top picks are able to when they come into the league. There was no way he was stealing the leadership role from the basketball brilliance that is Kobe Bryant. So, it could be said that the prevention of Russell’s alpha dog characteristics were stunted by the fact that he wasn’t able to take over right away and how difficult it is to take over for one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player the legendary franchise that is the Los Angeles Lakers has ever seen.
Once D’Angelo was traded to the laughing stock that is the Nets, many fans were quick to roast him on the fact that he may never be seen or heard from again. That the bright lights of LA were to big for him. With fans hounding you like that, most players would fade into the crowd and slack off, but that is not what D-Lo did. He embraced the change and immediately got in touch with his new teammates and got right to work with them. Posting videos of himself and some of his new teammates, such as Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, working out together at the early hours of 3-4 AM. Nobody just gets up to workout at 3-4 o’clock in the morning just to look good. It comes from a burning desire to prove the doubters wrong and the want to make Brooklyn his team and his city. That shows tremendous personal growth and leadership from the young 21 year old.
Many people were expecting D’Angelo Russell, as the number two pick in the 2015 NBA draft, to come right into the league and light up the scoreboard with his shooting ability. However, things didn’t seem to go as planned as Russell only managed to average 13.2 points in his rookie campaign, but people tend not to see the bigger picture. While he did appear in 80 games in the 2015-16 season, he only started 48 games at point guard for the Lakers. Couple that along with the horrible Lakers team making the year all about Kobe’s swan song, that doesn’t seem to be a recipe for D-Lo to burst on to the scene as the star he is capable of becoming.
In the 2016-17 season, the team was looking for a new face. A new leader. This was supposed to be Russell’s breakout campaign with new head coach Luke Walton leading the way, he was supposed to be Walton’s go to guy. The season started off hot for the second year point guard out of Ohio State, where he averaged 16.1 points for the first 13 games of the season. Everything seemed to be going according to plan over this stretch, but once the month of December hit, Russell’s scoring dipped. His points per game dropped to 14.2 points per game from the months of December through February. Many minds around the NBA started to say Russell was on his way to becoming a bust with his scoring dip. However, D’Angelo answered the critics right back when he averaged nearly 19 points a game, while shooting 42% from the floor in the last full month of the season in March. This gives the fans of D-Lo something to be excited about.
It usually takes the average great NBA talent 3-4 years to really grow into the player they are capable of becoming. Stars such as Paul George, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard didn’t burst onto the scene as stars instantly. Instead, they progressed over the first few years and got acclimated to the league, then they hit their breakout year and have never looked back since. You pair that with the fact that D-Lo’s new coach, Kenny Atkinson, has a history of being a point guard whisperer, that could spell as a recipe for success.
Russell is a floor general who can score with the best of them when he’s hot and can drop some dimes passing the ball in the process, while setting up his teammates with scoring opportunities. This is a crucial year for him and there is no question about that. The Nets are his team and it is up to him to develop his game this year with his new teammates. He needs to develop into the super athletic combo guard that people hoped he would ultimately become and prove all of the critics wrong. I firmly believe that with all of the growth he has done on and off the court, the new scenery, and the coach that could take him to the next level, D-Loading will show off the ice in his veins and follow in the steps of Odell Beckham Jr., Kristaps Porzingis, and Aaron Judge and will become a star in the city of Brooklyn.