2018-2019 will be D’Angelo Russell’s make or break season

Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell is entering the final season of his rookie deal and stands at a crossroads in his NBA career.

D’Angelo Russell‘s short career with the Brooklyn Nets is already coming to a crossroads. This season will either make or break Russell in the eyes of Nets general manager Sean Marks.

The June 20 trade (July 6 officially) with the Charlotte Hornets that unloaded Timofey Mozgov‘s albatross contract has created the potential for nearly $70 million in cap space for Brooklyn in 2019. That amount would give the Nets the ability to bring in two max free agents next offseason.

Russell’s performance next season will be crucial in Marks’ decision whether or not to allot a sizable portion of the Nets very valuable cap space to the 22-year-old.

Marks will have to make a decision on Russell next summer. He can extend Russell a $9,160,706 qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent, offer a long-term extension or part ways with the point guard.

Marks said earlier this month the plan is to evaluate the team as it stands, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

For now we’re going to see how this group plays together, how it all unfolds. But — again, I’m not going to rule out anything — as we stand now, this is the group and we have no plans to make any crazy changes, whether that’s an extension or signing or trade anyone else. But things happen quickly.

Russell averaged 15.5 points and 5.2 assists per game last season for Brooklyn. He missed 32 games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

There were moments last season when Russell looked like the star many around the NBA thought he would be out of college and there were moments where he left you scratching your head.

No one can doubt his ability to create on the offensive end, but his decision making at the end of games and his defense were questionable, to say the least.

Russell’s natural ability on the offensive end along with his size at point guard give him star potential. He has a smooth pull-up jump shot in the mid-range and knows how to probe off the pick-and-roll to create for others or get to the basket.

Russell’s impressive court vision was on full display last season. He has a great eye for finding cutters or rolling big men in the half court. Several of his passes last season left fans in awe as he found teammates through tight windows that few players would see.

This ability is something that cannot be taught.

While this skill is invaluable for a point guard, it often led Russell to throw passes he had no business attempting late in games. Russell averaged a career-high 3.1 turnovers per game last season.

Russell’s defense was the most frustrating part of his game this past year. He looked lost, lazy and uninspired on the defensive end more times than not. He showed little to no effort getting over screens, creating mismatches, and often got beat off the dribble or backdoor.

His 111.7 defensive rating was the worst on the team.

While these flaws in Russell’s game are evident and spectators are quick to criticize him, it is important to remember that he is just 22 years old. These deficiencies can be fixed with experience.

The Nets will be very active on the free-agent front in 2019. Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler and Klay Thompson are some of the names that could be on the market.

It is by no means a certainty that Marks brings in two max free agents next offseason. The Nets’ cap space gives them the ability to go in a number of directions.

Whether or not Russell is worth spending $20 million-plus of the Nets’ cap space on remains to be seen.

Russell is heading into his fourth NBA season and has had sufficient time to acclimate himself to the NBA. The 22-year-old must make the leap from a good player to a star player next season. This jump will come from maturity and awareness as a leader on the court and in the locker room.

Russell has been working hard this offseason and there is a noticeable difference in his body. He has also impressed the Nets coaching staff and front office by taking Dzanan Musa under his wing, attempting to ease the first-round pick’s transition from Europe to the NBA.

This leadership and hard work will now need to translate into a breakout season.

2018-19 will give Russell the opportunity to convince the entire Nets organization that he is the direction Brooklyn should be going in.