The Curious Case of D'Angelo Russell

D'Angelo Russell started the season on a hot streak before going down with a left knee injury in November. He has shown flashes of brilliance since then, but the inconsistency that dogged him in Los Angeles has still been a major issue in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Nets managed to swing a trade for D'Angelo Russell after just two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. After drafting Lonzo Ball, and after Magic Johnson made some...interesting comments about Russell's leadership skills, the Lakers were clearly ready to move on from the Russell era. Their decision to cut bait was clearly to Brooklyn's benefit; the Nets' open salary cap room made them a perfect trade partner for absorbing Timofey Mozgov's heinous contract.

The Nets appeared to have nailed the trade after the first few weeks of the season. Russell's positives were on full display during his first 12 games, as he averaged 20.9 points, 5.7 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per contest while clearly emerging as Brooklyn's leader on the court. However, Russell went down with a knee injury in mid-November that kept him sidelined for much of the season. Since his return on January 19th, Russell has been maddeningly inconsistent. While the 22-year-old still has plenty of room to grow, he will need to focus more on his strong suits going forward to avoid the up-and-down play that has marred his first season in Brooklyn.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

The good moments and the bad moments have both come in droves since D'Angelo Russell's return from injury. Those moments have often come one right after the other. Russell put up the first triple-double for the Nets in Brooklyn against the Raptors on Friday night. He also fell apart down the stretch of a game that the Nets lost by just four points.

Russell ranks in the 50th percentile among NBA point guards in overall shooting efficiency per Cleaning the Glass. That number, however, masks the true nature of his season. Russell made seven three-pointers in the first seven minutes of Brooklyn's March 3rd game against the Raptors--and missed all five of his attempts for the rest of the game.

On the plus side, D'Angelo is already ahead of the curve in terms of running an effective pick-and-roll offense. He ranks in the 56th percentile in terms of pick-and-roll scoring efficiency per Synergy Sports. When he gets some space after a screen, he can use his tight handle and shiftiness to find his way into open spaces on the floor and score effectively:

Russell is even more effective in the pick-and-roll when passes are included. He ranks in the 65th percentile of overall pick-and-roll efficiency including passes, which shows that he makes the right decision with the ball far more often than not in pick-and-roll situations.

The main issues with Russell arise when he falls in love with his jump shot more than he should. He is shooting just 31.8% from deep this season after cracking the 35% mark in each of his first two seasons.

D'Angelo Russell may well return to his strong play from his first 12 games after an offseason to train and recover. Furthermore, his increased comfort level with Brooklyn's offense (along with the return of Jeremy Lin) should allow Russell to pick his spots far more effectively in his second season with the Brooklyn Nets. While the question of whether or not Russell will make the right choices remains, he will have many more opportunities to make the correct reads next season. 

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