Brooklyn Nets: Contract-year D’Angelo Russell finds next level

Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell is playing the best basketball of his NBA career over the last 2 weeks with All-Star berth, next contract on horizon.

Poor Brad Wanamaker never had a chance. Not with the assassin-like way in which D’Angelo Russell of the Brooklyn Nets was shooting in the second half Monday night.

With the shot clock winding down and the Nets up by six points in the third quarter, Russell had the ball well above the 3-point line, Wanamaker worked his way over an Ed Davis screen as Russell pulled up from about 26 feet away.

Nothing but net.

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That was the big splash during a 15-0 run that turned a two-point game into a huge Brooklyn lead in the second half to push the Nets well on their way to a 109-102 win over the Boston Celtics at Barclays Center.

Russell finished the night with 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting, canning 7-of-13 from 3-point range, while also handing out seven assists.

It was Brooklyn’s first win over the Celtics in more than three years and ended a 10-game run of futility against the guys in green.

Russell’s huge third quarter was the key in breaking open what had been a tight game, as he poured in 18 points to go with four dimes as the Nets tied a franchise record for third-quarter scoring with 44 points.

Brooklyn had to survive a late run by Boston and Russell got a bit loose with the ball in the late going with three turnovers in the fourth quarter, but his work in the third period ensured the Nets had enough of a cushion that they were never seriously threatened down the stretch.

It was Russell’s sixth game with at least 20 points in the last seven in which he’s played, a stretch during which he’s averaging 22.7 points, 7.6 assists and 1.0 steals while shooting 48.8 percent overall and 40.7 percent from deep.

On the season, Russell is putting up 18.7 points, 6.3 dimes and 1.1 steals in 29.5 minutes. He’s shooting career-bests of 43.1 percent overall and 36.4 percent from behind the arc.

Again, just for emphasis — nearly 19 points and more than six assists in less than 30 minutes per game.

Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks opted not to offer Russell an extension of his rookie deal prior to the Oct. 16 deadline last fall and justifiably so. Russell was coming off two straight injury-shortened seasons and, while showing flashes of greatness, was battling inconsistency.

But with the year he’s having — durability and production all while taking his game to a level where those outstanding performances are becoming repeatable — make no mistake: D’Angelo Russell is going to get paid next summer.

With backup point guard and sixth man deluxe Spencer Dinwiddie already locked into a three-year, $34.3 million extension that kicks in next season, the Nets have the ability to compensate DLo appropriately as a restricted free agent and still bring in a premier talent off the open market.

Truth time: I came into the season assuming that the Russell/Dinwiddie contract situation was an either/or proposition. When Dinwiddie re-upped last month, that spelled the end for Russell.

Not so fast.

With the way Marks has managed next season’s cap space, he can have his right-handed rim runner and his left-handed floor general, too.

All while maintaining room to bring in someone (*cough* stretch 4 *cough*) off the free-agent market to add some star power to the roster.

As for the season Russell is putting together? When adjusting for his relatively low minutes per game average and looking at his numbers on a per-36 minute basis, Russell is averaging 22.8 points and 7.7 assists.

Not bad at all.

How many players in the NBA are averaging that combination of numbers per 36? One … D’Angelo Russell. But even if you use his per-game averages of 18.7 points and 6.3 assists, you still only have a list with one name on it.

Without some sort of ballot-box stuffing by Nets fans over the final seven days of All-Star voting, Russell will have to depend on the Eastern Conference coaches to select him for one of seven available spots for the Feb. 19 midseason classic in Charlotte.

Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics and Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat are leading the voting among Eastern guards and are the frontrunners to get the two starting spots from the conference.

Then there’s Kemba Walker from the host Hornets, Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers and Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers all having excellent seasons.

Throw in former All-Star picks in Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and you have a crowd to choose from for the reserve spots, considering there will be three, possibly four, guards chosen at a maximum.

The Nets are hovering around the .500 mark and are in seventh place in the East after an 8-18 start. Russell’s combination of scoring and playmaking is in a class by itself statistically.

He may not end up being picked for the All-Star Game, but it won’t be because he hasn’t done enough to earn a spot.

Next. 10 best rookie seasons in Nets history. dark

D’Angelo Russell has found the next level and is sustaining it, much to the benefit of the Brooklyn Nets.