The Brooklyn Nets finally got their point guard back, but D’Angelo Russell is struggling to show the confidence that makes him a special player.
This past Friday, Russell made his awaited return against the Miami Heat at home. The Nets guard came off the bench and was eased into the rotation. With four minutes left in the first quarter, Russell entered the game. The Barclays Center erupted and gave the guard a standing ovation.
The Nets had everything working against the Heat except Russell’s play. On the offensive end, Brooklyn played with a high-tempo offense all night by spreading and using all areas of the floor as they have for most of the season. Russell looked nervous when it came to driving to the basket, a clear sign that Russell’s confidence is not where it was before his injury. After all, driving to the basket was something he excelled at before getting hurt.
Coach Kenny Atkinson put Russell in the game for 14 minutes, and as expected, he showed some rust. He struggled shooting the ball. With the shooting struggles and non-aggressive attitude in Russell’s return, confidence was clearly missing in his return.
Russell ended his return scoring one point and recording two assists.
According to Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily, Coach Atkinson commented on Russell’s return and play after the game.
“[Russell was] obviously rusty, which is normal. His second [half] he was much better,” said the coach. “You could see he got in a rhythm. He’s got a feel as a quarterback, as a point guard of getting guys shots.”
This past Sunday, the Nets traveled to Detroit to play the Pistons, who had a hard time controlling Brooklyn throughout the game on both ends of the floor. The Nets had everything working except a confident Russell. He scored only three points and looked nearly identical to the player we saw against the Heat. D’Angelo didn’t drive, settling for jump shots, finishing 1-for-5 from the field and dishing out just one assist.
When Russell is playing confident both he, and the Nets, are at their best. There are things he can do to regain his swagger.
His struggles are primarily based on the offensive end. It is important for Russell to set off ball screens. These off-ball screens will lead to kick-out shots or a drive to the basket. Off-ball screens set by Russell can play a big role in the offense.
The Nets guard also needs to limit the number of shots taken if they are not falling early. Russell, when not locked in early in the game needs to mix in other scoring options on the offensive end such as driving. Doing so will find him in more one-on-one situations.
When Russell has the ball, he works best when he aggressively drives to the basket. He has rarely done that since his return. Attacking the rim will play a huge role in bringing back his confidence on the court. These drives will raise his aggression and confidence on contact plays and will help him mentally gain confidence in his recovered knee as well.