Last week was an interesting week in the NBA. The Celtics were rising, the Lakers were struggling, Harden continued his 30-point streak, and of course Demarcus Cousins made his season debut. Yet, getting lost in the shuffle was the Brooklyn Nets. Despite a very inconsistent season, they won 3 straight this past week. This run has launched the Nets to a 24-23 record and they currently hold the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference (the East is so weak that a team 1 game above .500 is in the 6th seed). The man responsible for leading this charge is D’Angelo Russell.
Now before I explain why he is my player of the week, I implore you to keep an open mind. I understand that to Laker fans, and most NBA fans, he was the guy that essentially ruined his former teammate Nick Young’s relationship with rapper Iggy Azalea. The man was then shipped to Brooklyn to essentially have a do-over. And while I understand the negativity toward Russell, I would state that while he did make a mistake, he has moved on from the controversy. Unlike many players, Russell still demonstrates a passion and drive to prove why he was the 2nd overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. He is a man that does not want his career to be defined by controversy, but instead by his play on the basketball court.
And this year he is showing everyone exactly why Rob Pelinke and the Lakers took him ahead of stars like Kristaps Porzingis, Myles Turner and Devon Booker. This season Russell is averaging career highs in points and assists with the best field goal percentage of his career. And while this team is not flashy, they have proven time and time again that they can beat anyone on any given night. And this week was the best week to demonstrate what Russell and the Nets are capable of doing when at their best.
In their first game they played Boston at home. Despite Kyrie Irving not playing due to injury, the Celtics were still the clear favorite. The Celtics did everything to comeback from 24-point deficit, but the Nets were able to hold on and win the game. A huge part of this win was Russell who was able to rack up 34 points and dish out 7 assists, while shooting 50% from the field. Without the amazing effort by Russell, there is no way that the Nets would have been able to win that game.
They then played the Houston Rockets who again were the clear favorite to win this game. Despite trailing in most of the first half, Russell and the Nets were able to make a comeback. While Russell did not score the ball a lot this game (10 points) he did make a major impact on the passing game by having 7 assists.
The last game they played this week was away against the Orlando Magic. This game was ridiculous as Russell blew up for 40 points and 7 assists on 64% field goal shooting while also shooting 67% from behind the arc. To top it off, Russell lead his team in the 4th quarter by scoring 9 points and hitting a layup to tie the game and later a 3-pointer to put the Nets up by 3. This game demonstrated the great potential of both Russell and this Nets team has. While he still has work to do in becoming a more consistent player, Russell is already a proven scorer and playmaker on his team. The fact is that he can easily be a future star in this league.
The only issues with his game are turnovers and his decision-making. Yet, as he continues to develop, I expect these issues to diminish. Brooklyn already have a very young and promising core with developing talent like Jarret Allen and Spencer Dinwiddie. Yet, it is through Russell’s play that Nets are able to hold the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. And on top of all of this, the team has the cap space available to sign two max contract players next offseason. This why it’s important for Russell to demonstrate his abilities. If a team is simply tanking with no future, then free –agents are unlikely to sign with that team. But Russell is showing the potential of the Nets, and is essentially stating that with a few more pieces they can easily become contenders within the eastern conference for the next decade.