The Brooklyn Nets face a key decision with point guard D’Angelo Russell this season. Should the Nets sign him to an extension or let him walk?
The NBA season is already a quarter of the way through, a surprise to most fans. Between work, family, and a healthy social life, it’s often hard to keep track of a non-stop sport like basketball.
For Brooklyn Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell, however, each day and game passing is a tick of the clock. It’s year four for the former number two overall pick, the last of eligibility for a rookie-scale extension.
Entering the summer, Russell idly sat by as two members of his draft class Devin Booker and Karl Anthony-Towns both signed their rookie-based extensions. Now it’s make-or-break for the 22-year old, and he’s established a strong campaign to be paid in full. Russell’s first month in Brooklyn, last October, he averaged: 21.7 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game on a .466 clip from the field. The sigh of relief that swept through the Nets front office was felt around the NBA.
Brooklyn had finally found a young talent that could help return this franchise to winning basketball. Then Russell went down with injury, underwent knee surgery, and failed to return to the same level of play from January on.
Brooklyn isn’t running away with the 2018-2019 season. Quite the opposite, as this season is running over them. At 8-18, the Nets are free falling amidst an eight-game losing streak. Caris LeVert is out for the immediate future, DeMarre Carroll hasn’t returned the same from his own injury, and head coach Kenny Atkinson can’t settle on any one lineup.
Nonetheless, point guard D’Angelo Russell is turning the corner, into just the player they traded for in the summer of 16′.
In 29 minutes per game, he’s averaging: 18 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.3 steals a night. Check out this commanding 38 point performance in a recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers:
Still, an extension won’t make sense for Brooklyn unless Russell can sustain this level of play. Which is likely the reason he’s not cemented into the Nets future this minute.
A look into Russell’s improved start to the year, and just what he should aim for with an extension being his goal.
In the Eastern Conference, a player’s chances of being selected to the All-Star roster are as widespread as ever. Currently on track to make the team are names like Kyle Lowry, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Zach LaVine, and Kemba Walker.
Even with all those guards selected, Russell is still a near shoo-in for a reserve spot. His play in this conference is among the best in the East. Per ESPN.com, Russell ranks fifth among guards in points per game and eighth in assists and steals.
Defense, Defense, Defense
Not to mention his improvement defensively, which has been noticed league-wide. It’s not sound like star guard Jrue Holiday, but Russell’s become a more assertive and pesky defender.
He’s currently averaging 1.3 steals per game and has recorded four games already with three or more. Brooklyn ranks 19th among the league in defensive rating and needs a leader on that end of the ball with LeVert out indefinitely.
From point guards to big men, the three-point shot has taken over this era of the NBA. At 34.8 percent per game, the Nets rank 19th in the league in three-point percentage.
Still, they are knocking down 12.1 per game; the fourth-best mark among all teams. This can in part be credited to Russell, who’s seen a steep improvement in his three-point shot.
Last year, he was connecting on 1.9 shots per 5.8 attempted. This season he’s ‘fully loaded’ from deep, scoring 2.5 a game.
All the while shooting them at a .359 clip. Through 26 games, Russell’s already recorded six nights with four or more three-pointers made. He only had nine such games over 48 appearances last season.
With next summer’s cap space projecting Brooklyn to land at least one marquee free agent, they’ll need to cement their core sooner than later. D’Angelo Russell is proving now that he can play a positive role in that lineup.
Earning an All-Star selection, and sustaining (or even improving) his defensive and three-point efforts will make the decision to extend him all the easier for the Nets front office.