The Brooklyn Nets finally returned to the postseason armed with an All-Star point guard. Sadly, D’Angelo Russell didn’t look the part.
The Brooklyn Nets played meaningful basketball in April. It’s been more than a few years since you could say that.
Part of their journey back to the playoffs can be credited to the 2017 offseason trade for castaway point guard D’Angelo Russell. The Nets front office gave up their best player (Brook Lopez) to take a chance on the Lakers’ former number two pick.
The result? Brooklyn’s first playoff berth since 2015, and their first All-Star representative since Joe Johnson in 2014. But once the Nets breached the postseason, their All-Star point guard was nowhere to be found.
]Russell was inconsistent, and that’s putting it nicely. Over the course of the five games played, he put up a not-at-all-pretty 34/32/66 shooting split.
Brooklyn could have tied the series on Saturday, or even taken a 3-1 lead if Russell was in All-Star form. But obviously, it didn’t happen. A look at his playoff slump and what’s to blame.
An Aussie Named Ben
Russell and Ben Simmons once played together at Montverde Academy. Over the last two weeks, they faced off on opposite sides of the court. Simmons wreaked absolute havoc on Russell.
Are Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell the first high school teammates to play on the same @NBA All Star team? ?
Asking for a friend. pic.twitter.com/Q5HvRsLt1n
— Montverde Academy Basketball (@MVABasketball) February 2, 2019
Simmons’ size (6-foot-10, 230-pounds) was too much for the Nets’ All-Star. That much is apparent when you look at the numbers below.
He smothered Russell from the perimeter to the post, and limited him to just six made shots twice in the series.
— The Nylon Calculus (@NylonCalculus) April 22, 2019
This chart reflects only the series’ first four games, but it’s telling.
Russell averaged 12.7 more field goal attempts per 100 possessions when guarded by any Sixer not named Ben Simmons. That’s a ludicrous number by all accounts, and it doesn’t even touch on his descent in assist-to-turnover ratio.
And nothing changed in Game 5, where Russell shot 3-of-16 from the field for just eight points total.
Brooklyn’s point guard is one of nine players to have recorded at least 550 assists, per Basketball-Reference. After averaging seven assists per game in the season, he tallied just 18 total during the series.
Simmons not only limited Russell’s scoring, but he isolated him entirely from the Nets’ offense. The point forward did everything right defensively. Give credit where it’s due.
The more Russell plays, the more he’ll become accustomed to reading a player of Simmons size. But there just wasn’t enough time for him to find a solution.
Shooters Shot but Didn’t Make
Every team has a safety blanket. An all-hustle guy who can keep things going even in the midst of the most chaotic runs by an opponent. Joe Harris was that guy for the Brooklyn Nets.
But alas, he also went M.I.A.
Harris opens up a lot of things for the Nets offense, mostly due to his incredible off-ball movement. One of Brooklyn’s favorite plays, dubbed “Portland,” has Harris cutting backdoor for a high pass from Russell, who stands atop the key.
But we didn’t see much of that play, or his league-leading three-point shot over the last few games. Harris, normally a knockdown shooter from deep, shot just 4-of-21 from three-point range in the series.
Together, the duo of Russell and Harris were a combined negative-168 over the series with Philadelphia. Not ideal.
Harris has become a three-point threat that doubles as an off-ball cutter. He can create unforeseen problems for opposing defenses on the inside through timely cuts and by attacking out-of-control closeouts.
If the shooting guard could have found his way out of the slump and helped free the offense, it could’ve resulted in some easier looks for Russell – whose shot selection in the series was questionable at best.
Part of that comes from Russell forcing tough shots, as opposed to taking what the defense allows. But that’s much harder when only three guys on the floor are threats along the perimeter.
Make no mistake, D’Angelo Russell led the Brooklyn Nets to the playoffs. Ironically, he looked as if he’d forgotten exactly who it was that led them there—himself.
Entering a summer filled with questions, Russell’s timing couldn’t have been any more inopportune.
Now Brooklyn enters the offseason fresh off a four-game losing streak, and even less an idea of what to do with his upcoming free agency.