D'Angelo Russell Excited to Get Back to Work With Brooklyn Nets
The 21-year-old guard is looking forward to a creating a dangerous backcourt with Spencer Dinwiddie
BROOKLYN – As D’Angelo Russell wrapped up a jersey photoshoot at the Nets’ HSS Training Center, he was asked about being close to being cleared to play. His eyes lit up and his excitement was palpable.
“It feels great,” Russell told BrooklynNets.com. “I just really want to get out there and be with my teammates again.”
After nine weeks and six days, Russell is probable to return to action for the Nets in their game against the Heat on Friday. The team that he will rejoin on the court is a bit different from the last time he played on Nov. 11. Since the 21-year-old was sidelined, the Nets saw several players pick up their games to replace his scoring ability and playmaking – most notably Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert.
Dinwiddie, in particular, has been one of the NBA’s biggest storylines this season. He’s averaging career-highs in every major statistical category and leads the NBA in assist to turnover ratio. With both players being tall guards and creative playmakers, Russell is excited about what the pair can do together on the court.
“How about Spencer man? He’s been amazing,” Russell exclaimed. “For him to go through the adversity that he’s been throughout his career and come in here, step up and be one of our main guys, I salute him too.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there with him. Getting my sweat back and having a guy like him, of his caliber, right next to you. I think the sky is the limit.”
According to Dinwiddie, the feeling is mutual.
“He’s obviously an extremely-talented guy. He’s another guy who’s going to create and make shots at a very high level,” Dinwiddie mentioned after Tuesday’s practice. “I think we could create havoc on the offensive end and present advantages on the defensive end as well. “
Russell acknowledged it could initially be an adjustment for Brooklyn’s backcourt to get into sync, but believes the two will make it work due to their competitive drive.
“I think in our point, just trying to go out there and pushing each other, making sure that we’ve both got that competitive edge,” Russell said. “We both want to win in everything we do and want to be the two best guards on the floor.”
Prior to Russell’s injury, the third-year player was playing some of the best basketball of his young career. There might be the desire to get right back to where he left off, but head coach Kenny Atkinson insisted that he will be eased back into action on Friday.
“When he comes back, expect a buildup in minutes. Is it better he starts or is it better he comes off the bench? We still have to make that decision,” Atkinson said.
Still, Atkinson said the Nets will be boosted by Russell’s return, comparing it to a new signing. He also likes the potential of possibly having three talented big guards in Russell, Dinwiddie and LeVert – three good ball-handlers and playmakers – playing together.
“It’s a good problem to have. You have three guys who can handle the ball, who can pick and roll. We can play them together; we can stagger them…That can only help our team,” Atkinson said.
In the two months away from the court, Russell revealed he’s spent a lot of time improving the mental and physical sides of his game. Atkinson told reporters that the guard has bulked up during his time off and Russell insisted it was all about making sure he was on schedule with his recovery.
“Every day [I worked towards it],” Russell said. “The hours you put in – there’s a reason why you come back stronger than you were. [With] the amount of time, it’s inevitable.”
Mentally, Russell explained that sitting on the sidelines allowed him to learn how to better communicate with his teammates. He pointed to the fact that he used to try to do everything physically on the court, hoping to lead by example. Without being able to do that for several weeks, he gained experience in giving pointers verbally, something he feels will help when he returns. He also says that he gained more perspective about Atkinson by seeing him close to where he operates.
“He’s always in a happy-go-lucky mood. He’s a competitor – he wants to get after it every chance he gets,” Russell said. “He’s not afraid to reward guys for doing their jobs.”
With Russell back in the fold for the final 37 games of the season, he wants the team to build on the progress made this season so far.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are capable of making things happen. It could be anybody’s night [on] any night,” he said. “Just buying in and trusting your teammates. I think with that experience of going through adversity and competing with some of the top teams in the league, we’ll get better at that.”
He wants to help Atkinson and General Manager Sean Marks continue to build an identity for the young Nets.
“I think for us, it’s constantly building our image. The Brooklyn Nets – we are what you hear,” Russell said. “When you hear about the Brooklyn Nets, you hear about Brooklyn Grit, Grind…All of that. So just building our identity and image.
“Going into every game and teams know what to expect from us – day in and day out. I think that’s what we have to constantly keep preaching.”