Brooklyn Nets Guard D'Angelo Russell Continues to Elevate
Russell averaging 22.7 points, 7.6 assists since New Year's
The smart thing, Jarrett Allen figured, was to just get out of the way.
"Just give him the ball," said Allen. "I told him during the game, 'I'll be on the defensive end, you do your thing on the offensive end,' and that's exactly what happened tonight."
That's the type of zone D'Angelo Russell was in leading Brooklyn's third-quarter blitz against the Boston Celtics on Monday night. The Nets put together a 44-point quarter and built a 27-point lead before holding on for a 109-102 win.
At the heart of it was Russell in unstoppable mode, scoring 18 points in the third quarter alone on 7-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. With the Nets leading 65-59, Russell made three 3-pointers in less than two minutes, the last two capping a 15-0 run that put Brooklyn up by 17 points.
He finished with 34 points -- his sixth 30-point game of the season -- while shooting 13-for-26 overall and 7-for-13 from 3-point range with seven assists and five rebounds.
"There's no fear," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "He believes in himself. He's got tremendous, tremendous confidence. He's playing really well right now. I think with guys out, we've given him a little more of a green light. We need him to be aggressive. He and I have talked about it, and he was aggressive tonight. We need him to keep doing that."
As the Nets have won five of seven games since 2019 tipped off, Russell has averaged 22.7 points and 7.6 assists in 30.9 minutes per game, shooting 48.8 percent overall and 40.7 from 3-point range on a high volume of 7.7 attempts per game.
While it's an impressive run, Russell has elevated his game and his consistency to the point where playing small sample size theater is essentially unnecessary. Go back 10 games, or a month, or two months, and you'll see numbers in the same ballpark.
"Confidence," said Russell. "I trust my craft. My teammates, like I said, they put me in the position to do that. They're finding me when we have the hot hand, but once again I trust my craft and I know what I'm capable of."
Actually, the two-month mark might be a little instructive. That's the point in which Caris LeVert suffered his foot dislocation against Minnesota on Nov. 12. With LeVert leading the team in scoring at that point -- as well as sitting just behind Russell in usage rate -- his loss naturally concentrated the ball in Russell's hands a bit more.
"I think it gives everybody that freedom with injuries and stuff like that," said Russell. "It forces you to step up whatever your role may be, you have to magnify it and come with a 10 percent more effort of what you're given and I think that's what it takes for us to win. We're going to need everybody on the defensive end. We're going to need everybody on the offensive end. We're going to need all the coaches on their p's and q's so it's going in our favor right now with us all doing that."
While the Nets lost eight of their first 10 without LeVert, they turned things around with a seven-game win streak that launched their current run of 14 wins in 19 games, the NBA's second-best record dating back to Dec. 7.
While Russell has been pushing new boundaries offensively, currently averaging career highs in points (18.7), assists (6.3), field goal percentage (43.1) and 3-point percentage (36.4), he's also showing improvement on the defensive end.
His individual defensive efficiency rating is at a career-best 106.5, compared to last season's 110.9.
"I think it's getting better," said Atkinson. "I really do. I think he's made big strides. I think the analytics will back that up that he's an improved defensive player. I think he's still got a long way to go to be that two-way player we want to help him be. But much improved, much improved defensive player."
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