D’Angelo Russell was the second overall pick just two years ago. However, Magic Johnson decided to move on from Russell in return for one year of Brook Lopez, the 27th overall pick, and the ability to dump Timofey Mozgov‘s contract.
Russell will have a tough time replacing the beloved Lopez in the hearts of Nets fans. However, he has incredible upside. D’Angelo’s production before turning 21 should have turned more heads than it already has. His relative anonymity on the basketball floor will certainly change next season.
While D’Angelo has room to grow on both ends of the floor, he is in truly elite company as a young guard with his level of production. With a presumably larger role in Brooklyn, D’Angelo is poised on the brink of stardom.
More Minutes, Fewer Problems
D’Angelo Russell averaged 15.6 points and 4.8 assists per game last season, which would already be fantastic numbers for a point guard who did not even reach the legal drinking age until more than halfway through the season. However, those numbers do not tell the whole story of D’Angelo’s incredible start to his career.
For some strange reason, D’Angelo averaged just 28.7 minutes per game last season. A small minutes load might make sense in the context of a team that was not one of the worst in the league. However, it is even more perplexing that Russell played fewer minutes per game than Jordan Clarkson.
If you look at Russell’s numbers on a more even playing field–in terms of production per 36 minutes–his performance jumps from solid to historically elite. D’Angelo Russell averaged 19.6 points per 36 minutes and 6.0 assists per 36 minutes.
Only 11 guards in NBA history since the advent of the three-point line averaged more points per 36 minutes in either their rookie or sophomore seasons per Basketball-Reference—Allen Iverson twice, Kyrie Irving twice, Dwyane Wade, Isiah Thomas, Tim Hardaway, Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, and Reggie Theus. Every single one of those players made at least two All-Star teams, and Theus and Rose will probably be the only ones to not make the Hall of Fame.
If you add in Russell’s six assists per 36 minutes, Lillard, Rose, and one of Iverson’s seasons drop off the list. Furthermore, only Wade and Kyrie in his rookie year matched D’Angelo’s 4.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. Although it is far too early to assume that Russell becomes a superstar player, history shows that it would be unprecedented for him to not be a multiple-time All-Star.
While D’Angelo Russell has not had much playing time to showcase these talents, he is already a solid scorer with a diverse offensive repertoire. Russell is not an explosive vertical athlete, which leads to occasional struggles in scoring near the basket. However, his jump shot is both accurate and versatile. Russell canned 41.1 percent of his jumpers from 15-19 feet per NBA.com. Additionally, he made 34 percent of his shots from 25-29 feet, an impressive mark on deep three-pointers.
I already discussed Russell’s penchant for corner three-point shots in my breakdown of the trade, but those shots will be a huge part of his game next season. Russell’s effectiveness as a primary creator (he was assisted on just 40.5 percent of his baskets last season per NBA.com) belied his fantastic spot-up shooting, a skill he will get to use far more often next season.