Brooklyn Nets: D’Angelo Russell putting it together

Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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D’Angelo Russell posted his 2nd straight 20-point, 10-assist game for the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, the 1st time in his career he’s turned that trick.

Brooklyn Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell put together another solid performance Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, leading the Nets with 23 points and 10 assists as Brooklyn won its second straight game and 11th in its last 14.

The 109-100 win was significant for Russell in a couple of ways.

It was his third straight game with at least 20 points, just the fourth time in his career — and the second time this season — he’s done so.

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It was also his second consecutive game with at least 20 points and 10 assists. That is a career first for the 22-year-old former No. 2 overall draft pick.

Russell is now averaging career bests of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game to go with 3.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 29.5 minutes per game.

After going 7-for-16 from the floor and 3-for-7 from 3-point range, his percentages for the season are at career highs of 42 percent and 35.4 percent, respectively.

Given that he’s also learning to co-exist on the floor with fellow point guard Spencer Dinwiddie (and for the last two games, a three-pointed look including Shabazz Napier), Russell has also provided me with perhaps the worst take of my more than 25 years covering sports.

The better he plays and — more importantly — the most consistently he plays, the more D’Angelo Russell plays himself into the future of the Brooklyn Nets.

General manager Sean Marks opted not to offer Russell an extension of his rookie deal before the Oct. 16 deadline to do so, instead putting Russell in position to test the restricted free agency waters in July.

I’ll be honest — when the Nets re-signed Dinwiddie to his three-year, $34.3 million extension last month, I thought it was a sign that the point guard of the future choice had been made.

But given how well Russell and Dinwiddie have played of late as options 1A and 1B for a club lacking in star power, but strong on chemistry and a solid mix of youth and veterans, the point guard of the future may be what Russell referred to as the “two-headed snake.” (per Newsday)

That would be the combo of Russell and Dinwiddie, D’Angespence Russwiddie if you will.

There are still some things Russell could do better — he had four turnovers on Friday and his 2.9 per game average rests just outside the top 20 in the NBA.

On the other hand, when you look at the names in that top 20 — with reigning MVP James Harden of the Houston Rockets at the top of the chart at 5.6 turnovers a night — maybe that’s not such a terrible place to be.

Of course, of the players in that top 20, only rookie Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks — fourth in the NBA with 4.0 turnovers per game — plays fewer minutes (29.4) than Russell, with Ricky Rubio of the Utah Jazz (16th at 3.1 per game) the only other player in the top 20 averaging less than 30 minutes a night.

While Russell is developing more consistency at the offensive end of late, the area of his game that has grown the most this season is at the other end of the floor.

Russell will likely never be an All-Defensive selection. But for the first time in his career, he’s not a complete sieve, either. He’s playing passing lanes better, he’s more active with his hands and — most significantly — he’s engaged on defense.

He made a play late in the game Wednesday night against the New Orleans Pelicans that showed that newfound commitment to be a complete player.

It was a play that won’t show up in a box score — there was no steal, no block, no rebound attached to it.

But he stepped in to challenge New Orleans star Anthony Davis, who was driving to the rim along the baseline. Russell’s play forced Davis to alter his release and led to a miss that the Nets cleaned up off the defensive glass while holding onto a shrinking lead in crunch time.

Was it a game-changing play? No. But it was a game-saving play and for a young team that is finally turned the corner and is learning how to close out games at the end, that’s just as big.

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And if Russell winds up re-upping with the Nets this summer, I’ll happily be wrong.