Brooklyn Nets exciting employee D’Angelo Russell is proving to be one of the best young point guards in the NBA.
The NBA is currently at a turning point.
The previous Carmelo Anthony/LeBron James/Dwyane Wade era is on its way out. Wade is currently embarking on a season-long retirement tour before calling it quits. Chris Paul looks undeniably older this season, suiting up for only 26 out of Houston’s total 47 games. He’s also experiencing a regression in his numbers across the board. Anthony has already been waived by one of the league’s bottom-five teams—the Atlanta Hawks—and the Chicago Bulls are likely to do the same soon. Even the once immortal LeBron James is currently on the mend with a groin strain and has no timetable for his return.
In their place, a new group of superstars has risen for replacement. This class, headlined by megastars like James Harden, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant, is currently at its absolute apex. It is, perhaps, the most talented and deep group of athletes that the NBA has seen since the 90s. It’s also primarily made up of talented point guards and ball-handling wings.
All of these players have earned accolades in previous years. Yet, somehow, a majority of them have found a way to outdo themselves this season.
Kevin Durant, the king of efficiency, is averaging 28 points per game on only 19 shots. Stephen Curry is nearly replicating his celebrated 2015-2016 season and is a few percentage points away from joining the illustrious 50/45/90 club. Harden can seemingly drop 40 on any given night and is having the best volume-shooting season since 2006 Kobe Bryant.
I bring up all of this to show that growth in the NBA is continuous. The best players always find a way to progress.
Waiting in the wings is a culmination of talented young stars who are ready to take over when the current regime begins its decline.
For the most part, it’s comprised of talented big men. This includes Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Kristaps Porzingis, Clint Capela, Jaren Jackson Jr., Wendell Carter, Myles Turner, DeAndre Ayton, and quite possibly, Jarrett Allen.
That isn’t to say that there’s a dearth of talent at the guard position.
Let’s go through the five best sub-23-year-old point guards.
Leading the way is two generational yet non-traditional distributors. At 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-10, respectively, Luka Doncic and Ben Simmons defy every norm that is used to describe an NBA point guard. They are the head honchos of the “I don’t know what the f— these guys are, I just know they are frightening” club. They embody just how far international basketball has come. Most of all, they are this generation’s Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
Jamal Murry is a seldom-discussed member of this list. He’s an aggressive scoring combo-guard in the mold of a James Harden. He’s also been a stealth All-Star this season for a fantastic Denver team.
Rounding out the top-five is Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell; two guys who faced off as recently as Monday, Jan. 23.
De’Aaron Fox and D’Angelo Russell are having very similar seasons in that they have lead two lottery-bound ballclubs to shocking starts. Both teams have outperformed their expected win totals by considerable margins thanks to the leadership of their young guards.
Monday’s game was the perfect stage for both of these players to showcase just how far they have come. However, only one of them left a considerable impact on the game. (I’ll give you a hint: he wasn’t wearing a blue and white jersey.)
De’Aaron Fox looked out of sorts from the get-go. Throughout the 3:30 p.m. ET matinee game, Fox went 4-for-14 from the field. A few of these misses were particularly brutal. One of them was a bank shot that nearly hit the side of the backboard. Perhaps the jetlag and early start affected his performance, but regardless, Fox was not impressive.
D’Angelo Russell was quite the opposite.
For the third time in five games, D-Lo dropped more than 30 points. His impressive January continues to get better and better. Through ten games, D’Angelo has averaged 24 points on 50 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from three. The 22-year-old is breaking out before our eyes, and boy it’s glorious.
Against Sacramento, D-Lo’s poised game was perhaps at its best.
This performance featured everything that makes Russell special: no-look passes, nifty in-in-out dribbles, and throwback midrange shots. Most importantly, it called attention to Russell’s increasing confidence in the longball.
Russell splashed seven three-pointers against the Kings. The last two were particularly awe-inspiring.
In a pair of mismatches against two of Sacramento’s bigs (Willie Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley III), D-Lo showed no hesitation. After a series of speedy crossovers, Russell launched a pair of ceiling-touching threes that sailed through the net with perfection. What made these shots so impressive was the distance that Russell took them from.
While shooting over Bagley, in particular, Russell was a good three steps behind the arch.
Russell’s three-point barrage effectively took the Kings out of the game. Brooklyn’s definitive 123-94 victory against one of the league’s brightest teams was a sign to the rest NBA of just how dangerous the Nets can be.
Slowly but surely, Russell is beginning to shake the label of being a streaky shooter. He’s starting to drop 30-foot bombs with relative frequency. With pristine mechanics and soaring confidence, his strong shooting might not be a fluke.
There’s a good chance that we are witnessing the early stages of a coming-out party for one of the pull-up shooters in the league. Don’t be surprised if, in a few years, Russell joins the likes of Curry, Lillard, and Kemba Walker in the club of elite off-the-dribble shooters.