Brooklyn Nets' D'Angelo Russell Rounding Into Form After All-Star Break

The 22-year-old is starting to get back his best since his return to the starting five

CLEVELAND – Since D’Angelo Russell’s return on Jan. 19, he’s made one thing pretty clear:  He’s in his comfort zone as a starter. After being reinserted into the starting lineup against Charlotte on Feb. 22, he’s gone out of his way to prove it.

Russell has started all three of Brooklyn’s games since the All-Star break, averaging a solid 16.6 points, 6.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds. He’s also heeded Kenny Atkinson’s call for better judgement with ball, as he’s only turning over the ball two times a game in that span. As a reserve, Russell averaged 10.8 points, 3.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 37 percent. The 22-year-old won’t point to his inclusion into the starting lineup as the recent for his uptick, but the numbers don’t lie.

Atkinson, for one, believes that the new role did serve as a confidence boost for Russell.

“I did see a little more pep in his step,” the head coach said after Friday’s practice, explaining the guard’s reaction to starting against the Hornets. “It looked like he was a little more excited going out there.”

On Tuesday against the Cavaliers, it appeared as if Russell got his swagger back. At times, he was almost unstoppable against the home side. If the opposing defense cut off his drives to the basket, he’d punish them from midrange or downtown. If they tried to key in on him on the perimeter, he’d draw fouls. While he might regret the questionable move to try to draw a foul with 20.1 seconds remaining, it was clear the Russell was willing to assert himself against arguably the East’s best team.

“Just being aggressive,” he explained after the Nets’ 129-123 loss to Cleveland. “Earlier in the game, I saw holes in the game that I could capitalize on. Throughout the game, it opened up, they were still there so I just took advantage of that.”

Though Russell is back to being a consistent starter for the first time since his injury on Nov. 11, his role has changed a bit. At the beginning of the season, he was the Nets’ lead facilitator and scorer. With the emergence of Spencer Dinwiddie, who is currently the NBA’s leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, Russell is no longer tasked with having to focus on both. Russell initially maintained that he is a point guard when he returned, yet he appeared to appreciate his new responsibilities after the game against the Cavaliers. He insists he isn’t trying to be the same player that he was before his injury.

“Yeah, it’s a different role,” he said. “I’m playing off the ball. I don’t think I’m trying to get to that point [how he played before the injury], I’m trying to create a whole new avenue for myself. It’s a different situation.”

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is happy to see his teammate playing with confidence again.

“Man it was only a matter of time – it’s D’Angelo’s game,” he said. “He can score, he can pass. There ain’t much he can’t do. It just feels good to have him back.”

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