Brooklyn Nets Morning Dish: D’Angelo Russell won’t lie — he’s heard the digs

The Brooklyn Nets Morning Dish is back on a road-trip ending Monday with a report that D’Angelo Russell is turning a significant corner.

It’s a week-starting edition of the Brooklyn Nets Morning Dish as we catch up on some things, including a report that Nets guard D’Angelo Russell has, in fact, been aware that he’s been the subject of some criticism over the course of his career.

Brian Lewis of the New York Post talked to Russell about his critics and about the former No. 2 overall pick’s work in quieting them with his play, particularly on the defensive end.

“It’s always something people are going to say about your game. People say defense. I hear that more than anything. That’s something I can control, my effort, bring it every night and competing, so trying to take pride in that.”

Russell’s defense has been markedly better this season, both in performance and energy. He played a big role on D in the Nets’ win at Denver on Friday night, when he helped shut down Jamal Murray — who came into the game as the Nuggets’ co-leader in scoring.

Defense and effort have been the two most common complaints about Russell’s game and coach Kenny Atkinson likes what he’s been seeing from the fourth-year player on those two fronts.

“It’s a team focus. We’re on him. As a staff, we all kind of think he [can score]. The offense is going to come for him. I just think he’s a talented offensive player and that’ll just come. That comes naturally to him.

“The defense is [improving]. He’s shifting his focus there and it’s helping him.”

One of the other areas of concern has been turnovers and Russell has made significant strides of late, with just three giveaways in his last four games.

Lewis pointed to Russell’s improved defensive rating as evidence of the efforts there and in this case, it’s probably not a bad measuring stick. But individual defensive ratings in general continue to be a poor evaluation tool on how a player actually plays defense, so we’ll move on from there.

Russell will be a restricted free agent next summer, but wants to remain in Brooklyn, where he feels this year’s improvement thus far is just the beginning of something big.

“Yeah, I just think the whole atmosphere is getting better and better every day. We come in for work, it’s a privilege just to put on a Nets uniform versus being someone that’s just thrown into that. But year, they’re making major changes and I think success is around the corner.”

Given Russell’s willingness to work at that other end of the floor, he’s showing signs he can be part of that success.

LeVert’s glimpse of superstar work ethic paying off

Michael Scotto of The Athletic (subscription required) had a piece last week on the value Caris LeVert, the emerging star of the Brooklyn Nets, derived from spending a week with former NBA MVP Kevin Durant a couple of summers ago.

The two players shared a connection in Nets director of player development Adam Harrington, who was with the Oklahoma City Thunder as a shooting coach when Durant played there.

LeVert and Durant share another similarity in that both players recovered from multiple surgeries to repair the dreaded Jones fractures in their feet. Durant broke and then re-injured his right foot, limiting his 2014-15 season to 27 games.

LeVert’s problems were with his left foot. His junior and senior seasons at the University of Michigan were cut short and he missed the first month-plus of his rookie season in 2016 while recovering from his last surgery to repair the issue.

Kerr watching Brooklyn Nets’ progress

The Brooklyn Nets on Saturday lost for the second time this season to the Golden State Warriors, but that doesn’t mean Warriors coach Steve Kerr isn’t a fan of what the Nets have done in their rebuilding efforts thus far.

Kerr ended his career as a player with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003. Nets general manager Sean Marks joined San Antonio as a reserve big man later that same year and was assistant GM for the Spurs before getting the Brooklyn gig.

Kerr told the press, per Newsday’s Greg Logan, that the progress of the Nets has been something that has been evident for awhile now.

“You could see this building the last couple of year. I think Sean Marks has done a good job o just finding talent without the use of lottery picks and finding some lottery talent with guys who are maybe on their second opportunity.

“Kenny has done a great job of establishing the fact that they’re going to play hard every night and they’re coming at you. We’ve had big leads that have dwindled.

“They’re building an identity and as they continue to build their talent base, it’s going to be a franchise that I think bears watching in the next few years.”

Kerr has had success as both a GM and a coach in the NBA. Before he led the Warriors to three titles in the last four seasons, he was general manager of the Phoenix Suns for three years from 2007-10. On his watch, the Suns were 155-91 and reached the conference finals in 2010.

After the win Saturday night, Kerr’s record as coach in Golden State is a simply ridiculous 276-65.

Among coaches who have at least 400 games experience, Phil Jackson has the NBA’s all-time best winning percentage at .704. Kerr, who will pass the 400-game mark this season, is currently at .809.

Kerr is one of only 13 people to have won NBA titles as a player and as a head coach, so there’s at least a chance he knows about which he speaks.