8 Takeaways From Russell and Mozgov

By Cory Wright

D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov were both introduced to the New York media on Monday morning. The two newest Nets expressed their excitement to be a part of the organization and fielded questions about their roles with their new team.

Here are eight takeaways from today’s press conference.

RUSSELL GETTING A FRESH START IN BROOKLYN:

D’Angelo Russell came into the NBA as a highly touted No. 2 pick in 2015, but despite averaging 14.3 points and 4.0 assists before his 22nd birthday, found himself on the trade block in LA. Whether it was deferring to Kobe Bryant in his rookie year, or playing under a new head coach in his sophomore season, Russell’s first two years were rockier than expected.

Now in Brooklyn, Russell said he’s putting LA behind him and feels like he’s getting a fresh start and a chance to be a leader and offensive focal point of the Nets.

“It is great to be here,” Russell said. “I can’t wait to help put this team back to where it is supposed to be and we have a lot of young talent, including myself, a group of vets sprinkled in there, a coach that is really hungry. If we put that it will be something special.”

Amid questions about parting comments from Lakers president Magic Johnson, Russell said he was just focusing on what he can control, like his work ethic and attitude, and that was all behind him. The Nets also see it as a fresh start for a gifted player – one who made the All-Rookie Second Team in 2015-16 and has shown his dynamic skill over the past two seasons.

“He’s got a clean slate with us. L.A. is L.A. This is Brooklyn. It’s a different situation, a different scenario,” Atkinson said. “I can see in the press conference there’s been some criticism and some doubts about him. But I think we’re a positive culture, we’re a positive coaching staff, and we’re going to hold him accountable and be honest with him and coach him hard. I think that combination of positive love and then holding him accountable and be honest with him, that’s how young guys get better.”

NETS SEE BIG UPSIDE IN YOUNG RUSSELL:

Sean Marks quipped that the Brooklyn Nets could have selected a player older than Russell at Thursday’s draft, showing how much is still ahead of the young player. On that road, the Nets see big upside, especially with their motion offense, which seems suited to Russell’s strengths.

“He’s a high-skill player,” Atkinson said. “He can make shots. He can hurt you two ways. He can hurt you coming off the ball and off pin-downs and screens. But he’s also really good in the pick-and-roll, shooting the ball. He’s a guy who fits the way we play, he’s a versatile player, a really dangerous player at 21 years old.”

“Coming out of Ohio State, maybe his No. 1 asset was his vision and how well he passed the ball,” Atkinson added. “So, that excites me, being a ball movement team.”

RUSSELL LOOKS MOTIVATED:

Even after being dealt by the Lakers and receiving some criticism from Magic Johnson, D’Angelo Russell said he wasn’t motivated by proving people wrong. He can say that, but actions speak louder than words and on Sunday night Russell posted a midnight workout on his Instagram account. Whatever is motivating him, the midnight workout shows that it’s working.

“I think he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Atkinson said. “I can see that already. I don’t think he’s boasting about that. He even said, ‘I’m not trying to prove people wrong. I’m trying to control my situation.’ But it shows by being in the gym and his hunger to get better. I kind of like that there’s a little bit of a chip there.”

Look who's up late @dloading #BrooklynGrit

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RUSSELL LIKES WHITEHEAD, LEVERT:

Russell had some high praise for Brooklyn’s Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert on Monday morning.

“Isaiah Whitehead is great,” Russell said. “I actually played against him a lot growing up. He’s one of those gritty guys from New York, one of the best to ever do it in this area. Caris, I played against him in college and am familiar with his game also. [The Nets have] a good group of young guys that can co-exist with the vets.”

At 21, Russell fits into the Nets young core and the prospect of growing with a young core excites him.

“I think the sky’s the limit for the opportunity,” Russell said. “We’ve got a lot of great guys around here. Like I said, the front office, those guys do their thing. The coaches, they’re just as hungry as the players. And I feel like (when) we put it all together, everybody really wants to win. The one thing at the end of the day is to win, and that’s the main focus.”

RUSSELL HAS TALKED TO LIN:

Russell said Jeremy Lin welcomed him to the team, but he hasn’t yet talked with the Nets point guard about how they plan to play off each other. He expects that to come soon.

“He’s established in this league and I am working to get there,” Russell said. “I know I will learn from him and vice-versa, whatever I can teach him would be great too. I just want to compete, it starts with practice, us pushing each other in practice, will lead to the games and make it easier.”

Lin is the Nets leader according to GM Sean Marks and will be a good veteran for the young Russell.

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NETS PLAN TO USE MOZGOV INSIDE:

Kenny Atkinson has experience turning big men into 3-point shooters. The Nets coach pushed for Brook Lopez to add the long ball to his game last season and was part of a staff in Atlanta that developed Al Horford’s 3-point shooting.

Atkinson said that doesn’t mean Mozgov will follow in the same mold, as he sees the 7-foot-1 center as more of an inside presence, with a career line of 7.4 points and 4.9 boards.

“We can expect Timmy to be a little bit closer to the basket,” Atkinson said. “We’ll put him in that dunker position behind the basket. He’s really good there. He’s good at the elbows. He’s got a nice jumper.”

Mozgov said he’s open to whatever the coaches need from him, but at the moment, an inside presence is what Atkinson wants. Atkinson he’ll need to see improved 3-point shooting from Mozgov at HSS Training Center before he lets him unload at Barclays Center.

“If he’s capable, it’s not out of the realm of possibility,” Atkinson said. “You’re going to see him in the corners to begin with. That’s how we started with Horford. He started in the corners and then moved up. We’ll see if we get there.”

NETS LIKE MOZGOV’S EXPERIENCE:

Timofey Mozgov is the lone Nets player with an NBA Championship, playing on the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers. Mozgov saw limited time during the postseason, but can impart experience on the younger Nets and even the coach.

“Timmy has seen it all. He’s seen organizations in different phases,” Atkinson said. “The fact that he was around a group that won a championship is so important and played an important role in that, I was picking his brain the other day just asking what that was like and what was the leadership like on that team. We can all learn from it, I can learn from it. I’m going to continue to ask him about that situation.”

Mozgov said he’s not a rah-rah guy, but plans to set an example for the Nets. The quiet Russian said getting to the championship level is all in the details.

“I’ve just seen how the guys do in the work,” Mozgov said. “I see how the guys are being professional, day-by-day through the practice. Doing things like, practice, treatment, (eating) the right food and everything. So you see the details, and this is the deal. You got to bring the details.”

ATKINSON COACHED MOZGOV:

Atkinson and Mozgov crossed paths in New York during the 2010-11 season, when the Nets coach was on the Knicks staff. Atkinson said he was very hands-on with Mozgov that year and they independently described each other as tireless workers.

“You could see he’s just a direct guy. There’s no BS there. He’s upfront. He’s an elite, elite worker, one of the best workers I’ve been around in this league.” Plus Atkinson is already on nickname basis with “Timmy.”

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