The fall has been as spectacular as it has been rapid. In nine games, D’Angelo Russell has gone from being the subject of “is he the point guard of the future for the Brooklyn Nets?” discussions to “hey, he’s still playing more than Napier” commentary about his minutes being cut.
For the second straight game, Russell was a spectator during crunch time. On Friday night, it reached a new level as Russell didn’t get off the bench for the final 17-plus minutes of the game.
His shooting was wayward for the third straight game, a stretch in which he’s shooting just .308/4-for-18/3-for-5. His defense on Chris Paul was woeful. But it’s starting to look as if there is something deeper at play here.
Coach Kenny Atkinson brushed off questions about Russell’s absence in the fourth quarter with the “hot hand” defense, but Spencer Dinwiddie — who played most of the fourth — was 1-for-7 in the quarter.
Has Russell lost Atkinson’s trust when the game is on the line? It’s not something the coach or the player would say publicly at this point, but it’s beginning to have that “walks like a duck” smell to it.
Alas, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a child who was just born too late. In a different NBA era, he might be one of the premier small forwards in the NBA with his slashing and defensive abilities.
But this is the 21st century and forwards can’t just drive and defend. They have to be shooters and Hollis-Jefferson, bless his heart, just isn’t. His one 3-point attempt last night could have come with a Halloween-style creaking door sound effect for its sheer awkwardness.
Hollis-Jefferson is in the final season of his rookie contract and this could be his career path moving forward — energy guy who can defend like crazy off the bench, but is a minus at the offensive end.
There is so much to like about his game, but his shooting makes him a 20th-century player in a 21st-century Association.