The Silver Lining of D’Angelo Russell’s Injury

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 10: D'Angelo Russell
PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 10: D'Angelo Russell /

News of D’Angelo Russell’s injury and subsequent surgery seemingly came out of nowhere. The 21 year old had just come off a solid 26 point game when he registered a DNP for a simple knee contusion. However, just days later, D’Angelo Russell emerged from out underneath the blade, much to the surprise of the Brooklyn Nets’ community. While surgery wasn’t required to fix the knee, it will definitely help him with his quickness and agility in the long-term.

Even though this move is good for the future of the team, it seemed as if it would come at the cost of many losses. Many basketball pundits expected the Nets’ to flounder without one of their best players and leading scorer. Fortunately, however, the opposite has been the case.

With D’Angelo Russell active, the Nets posted a 4-8 record. Obviously, this isn’t great, but some of the losses came to pretty good teams. Since Russell’s injury, however, the Nets have gone a respectable 5-7, including wins over playoff hopefuls like the Thunder and the Jazz. What is responsible for this change?

For starters, the Nets haven’t exactly played the cream of the NBA’s crop. Besides the two aforementioned clubs, the Nets beat the Grizzlies, the Hawks and the Mavericks. None of the teams look remotely close to playoff contenders. However, a win is a still a win, no matter the competition you are facing. It would be foolish to disregard these wins simply based on the level of competition.

Another reason for the Nets’ recent success is their new-found offensive fluidity. While he was on the court, Russell commanded a ridiculous 73.7 touches per game. Despite logging just five minutes less per night, fellow point guard Spencer Dinwiddie (who has played remarkably well in Russell’s absence) was responsible for just 54.2 touches per game during that same time span. Although he didn’t run a lot of isolation plays, D’Angelo Russell often held the ball for too long during possessions, often leading to forced shots or passes to teammates late in the shot clock.

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Accordingly, the Nets posted an offensive rating of just 100.5 with Russell on the floor. Without him in the game, the Nets have been pushing the ball more often, resulting in an offensive rating of 106.3 on the year. While a slower pace may have helped his own stats, it did not benefit the overall play of the team. This Nets’ team is built to run and gun; Russell didn’t fully embrace this new play style. 

It would be remiss to fail to touch on Caris LeVert‘s increased play during Russell’s absence. Frankly, LeVert started the year awfully, posting splits of 19/24/61 prior to Russell’s injury. Since then, however, LeVert has exceed the Brooklyn Nets’ expectations, scoring 12.7 a night at the tune of 48/36/71 shooting. It will be intriguing to see if LeVert can continue his hot play when Russell returns to the line up. Brian Lewis of the New York Post did a nice piece on LeVert, which you can find here. Definitely worth the read. In addition to LeVert, both Spencer Dinwiddie and Allen Crabbe have also been playing well in Russell’s absence.

Despite all of these positives, Russell’s injury definitely isn’t good. While it has allowed the Nets’ to play faster and has sped up the development of some key pieces, Russell is supposed to be the franchise player of this team. When Russell returns back to the hardwood, there will undoubtedly be some growing pains, but this young Brooklyn Nets’ team still needs their leader.

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