Russell to the Rescue

D-League addition helps keep Pistons afloat during injury run

Walker D. Russell Jr. has been an immeasurable asset to the injury-plagued Pistons.
Jesse D. Garrabrant /NBAE/Getty Images
The Pistons might get Will Bynum, out for three weeks with a foot injury, back for tonight’s game against Milwaukee. Ben Gordon, missing almost that long with a sore shoulder, looked spry firing up shots with Brandon Knight after Friday morning’s shootaround.

But there might be a place for Walker D. Russell Jr. on the roster, regardless.

“Walker’s been great,” Lawrence Frank said. “Not just his play, but his spirit, his leadership, his guidance. He’s a point guard. Walker is an NBA player. I can’t say enough good things about him. You guys were at the New Jersey game – you saw how well he played, how effective he was. He plays with confidence. His spirit is so healthy that I love it.”

Next week comes the deadline for NBA teams to guarantee contracts for the remainder of the season. Typically, a number of players around the league on non-guaranteed deals get cut loose as the deadline approaches.

“I don’t worry about that,” Russell said. “I’ve just got to take one day at a time. I’ve just got to worry about what I do, come out and produce when I’m on the floor. I can’t worry about all that non-guaranteed and guaranteed contract stuff. That right there gets you in trouble.”

It’s a perspective at 29 that he might not have had if his shot at the NBA had come sooner.

“The maturity, the timing of me coming to the NBA was great for me,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. Now that I’m here, I know what to expect and not to expect. I’ve just got to worry about playing good basketball and the rest of that stuff will take care of itself.”

His high-water mark came in Wednesday’s three-point loss to New Jersey. Russell played 21 minutes and scored 12 points with six rebounds and two assists. He hit 5 of 8 shots, 2 of 3 from the 3-point line. And with the game on the line and Rodney Stuckey a little bit supbar after twisting his ankle in the first half, Frank rode Russell and rookie Brandon Knight in the backcourt.

“Coach gives me a lot of confidence,” he said. “He had me out there in the fourth quarter the other night, that was a great confidence booster for me and it shows he has confidence in me. Now I’m starting to hit my shots and getting comfortable with the playbook, knowing where guys are going to be. Every game since the Memphis game I think it’s been a steady incline.”

That Memphis game, Russell’s debut, came just two weeks ago – but nine games ago.

“It feels like a month ago,” he smiled. “The games have been flying past. I don’t even know how many I’ve played. Nine? It’s been great. I think I’ve been improving each game, getting way, way, way more comfortable and my confidence is still shooting through the roof.”