Brooklyn Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell is transcending the tier known as an NBA All-Star. Now, if only the league would recognize it.
Alright. Even if you don’t watch horror movies, everyone can relate to that feeling. Watching the protagonist walk towards the closet door where the killer is hiding, knowing that opening that door leads to an imminent outcome.
Except you’re unable to tell them.
Well, that’s me. But instead of watching a horror film, I’m watching D’Angelo Russell put on an All-Star campaign while the rest of the league joins Sandra Bullock in the Bird Box challenge.
Brooklyn has climbed out of the NBA’s bottom-feeding class, and into the playoff picture, thanks to their starting point guard. Now 28-24, they’ve provided all the evidence needed for Russell to be voted into this year’s All-Star game.
Those are the Eastern Conference All-Star starters.
The rest of the team will be voted in by coaches, and then drafted live Feb. 7 live on TNT. Russell deserves to be voted into the game.
Ahead of the season, it was easy to argue why he wouldn’t be eligible: injury, the state of his own team, depth in the East.
But this year, all those excuses have turned a complete 180 degrees into just why he should represent the Nets in Charlotte come the second weekend of February.
Russell is averaging career-highs with 19.3 points, 6.3 assists, and in both field goal (.440) and three-point percentage (.379). He has checked every box on what qualifies an All-Star year.
The first one is the most obvious. But it’s double-sided.
To be selected for the All-Star game, you’ve gotta be healthy at the time of the vote, or back on the court for the game itself.
Sometimes *cough* LeBron James *cough* you’re good enough to get in with both of those factors up in the air.
For Russell, this is not the case. However, health and injury both play a part in his own candidacy.
Last season, Russell missed 34 games after going under right arthroscopic knee surgery. He returned after the All-Star Game, never quite finding his stride for the 2018 campaign.
This year, he’s played all but one of Brooklyn’s 52 games. The one game he missed was a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, which he sat out due to soreness in that same knee that troubled him last season.
But as luck would have it (and it’s no more than luck in this instance) injury can help your chances at being selected. Take a look around the Eastern Conference at guards who’ve suffered setbacks injury-wise:
All three are thought of as All-Stars, and no longer can block Russell’s path to the accolade.
Then you can look at Brooklyn’s roster. The Nets have lost Caris LeVert for over 38 games, and now Spencer Dinwiddie will miss three-to-six weeks. Still, Russell is playing at a level that yields wins.
2) Brooklyn’s Ascension
D’Angelo Russell is playing for a winning team.
They’re four games above .500 with the sixth-best record in the East.
And Russell is not only playing for the Nets, but single-handedly leading them with both LeVert and Dinwiddie out.
Speaking of LeVert, look at his strong stretch at the beginning of the year. Brooklyn went 6-12 when Atkinson “handed him the keys,” until he suffered a freak foot injury.
So, Russell stepped back into the role of the Nets’ number one option. Since, he’s lead them to a 22-12 record and pushed them to the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack.
A team’s success plays a huge part in a player’s candidacy for the All-Star team unless they’re playing on an astronomical level.
That’s why you likely won’t see guys like Devin Booker or Zach LaVine suit up for anything more than the dunk contest or three-point shootout. The Suns and Bulls have combined for 22 wins, and a good player is often critiqued with how much better they make their team.
Russell on the other hand, is almost entirely why Brooklyn is so firmly sitting in a playoff spot. Watch the 22-year old will his team to an on-the-road win away at Orlando:
Or his 13-point third quarter, tough shots in the fourth, and game-winning free throws in Brooklyn’s latest win:
There’s film, film, and more film to prove his value to Brooklyn. What you watched above? An All-Star at work.
3) Eastern Conference Depth
That leaves one spot for another guard, and it’s hard to argue that it belongs to anyone other than Russell.
Per Basketball-Reference, this is where Russell ranks in the field of four guards, in terms of their 2018-2019 campaigns:
- First in points per game and points scored.
- Second in assists per game and assists totaled.
- First in three-point percentage, and three-pointers made.
- First in field-goal percentage, and field goals made.
- Last in minutes per game.
Lowry is scoring just 14.2 points a game albeit while dishing the league’s second-best 9.4 assists nightly. But he’s seen a reduced role next to top-five player Kawhi Leonard and played nearly a dozen fewer games than Russell.
Middleton was on a tear to start the year, but has slowed down as Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to climb the MVP rankings. Russell is averaging more points and assists than Middleton, along with better shooting percentages across the board. He’s playing with less talent and winning nonetheless.
Then there’s Richardson, who’s nothing more than an honorable mention for helping to keep Miami afloat. Averaging 17.5 points per game, he’s failed to outgrow the label of prospect, at three years older than Russell at 25.
D’Angelo Russell is an All-Star in the Eastern Conference, and any other outcome will be considered downright absurd.
All that’s left is counting down until the guard performs his “ice in my veins” celebration in Charlotte, after shooting a three-pointer for Brooklyn in the All-Star exhibition.