Brooklyn Nets: D’Angelo Russell at an All-Star level

Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets D'Angelo Russell. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images) /

D’Angelo Russell celebrated his first Player of the Week honor Monday by once again leading the Brooklyn Nets to a win in a nearly flawless performance.

If D’Angelo Russell could make a layup, the Brooklyn Nets might have something.

All kidding aside, Russell continued his magnificent play with an outstanding outing Monday afternoon, scoring 31 points with eight assists … and zero turnovers … while leading the Nets to a 123-94 thrashing of the Sacramento Kings.

It was Russell’s eighth 30-point game of the season, exceeding the total of seven he had in his first three NBA seasons.

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It was the third time this season Russell has played a game with no turnovers after not doing so last season.

Yes, Russell is having a fantastic January. He’s led Brooklyn to an 8-2 record while averaging 24.0 points, 7.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game, shooting 50 percent overall and 44.8 percent on 8.7 3-point attempts per game.

Also Monday, he was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the first time in his career he has been so honored.

But at some point, it’s more than just a hot stretch. It’s bigger than just a few good games.

No, D’Angelo Russell — in his fourth NBA season — has broken through to a new level. He’s putting up 19.2 points and 6.4 assists per game in 47 starts this season, both career highs. Russell is shooting 43.8 percent overall and 37.9 percent from deep, both career highs.

Most of all, he’s turned into the leader on the floor the young Brooklyn Nets needed him to become.

Russell is giving a full effort defensively, fighting over screens, helping and recovering with adeptness and continues to erase the negative narrative that flew across the country with him when he was traded to the Nets by the Los Angeles Lakers in June 2017.

There may be no more difficult transition for a young NBA player than for a point guard. There is so much to absorb, so much responsibility to take on.

But Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson made his choice before the 2017 draft, opting to trade Russell — taken second overall by the Lakers just two years earlier — to the Nets to entrust the future of the franchise to Lonzo Ball, selected second overall by L.A. in 2017.

After Russell was dealt. Johnson was not kind to Russell, per ESPN’s Baxter Holmes, who covered Ball’s introductory press conference with the Lakers.

"“D’Angelo is an excellent player. He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody also that can make the other players better and also that players want to play with.”"

Russell’s teammates in Brooklyn aren’t having any problems playing next to him, especially not when he’s dropping dimes such as this one.

The read was good, the feed was excellent and the basket for Rodions Kurucs practically scored itself.

All-Star voting closes at 11:59 p.m. Monday and Russell will not be one of the two guards chosen from the Eastern Conference. That’s a fairly easy call to make since he had not breached the top 10 in the fan voting through the first three weeks.

With the fan vote accounting for 50 percent of the determination of the starters, yeah, his chances ain’t lookin’ too (Tony Soprano invective here) good.

The starters will be announced on TNT NBA Tip-Off Thursday night, with the reserves to be announced on the Jan. 31 edition of the show after the league’s head coaches vote.

Seven additional players from the Eastern Conference will be chosen by the coaches and Russell has done everything he can do to this point to be one of those seven.

Russell is the leading scorer and playmaker for the sixth-best team in the conference, a team that has won 17 of its last 22 games while he’s played his best, most consistent basketball of the season.

Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade had gotten a lot of support in the fan voting in this, his final NBA season, ranking second in the voting returns released last week. Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics was running away with the fan voting, holding a lead of more than 1.4 million votes over Wade.

There is a lot of competition at the guard spots in the East. Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets played for the host team, was third in the fan voting and is having a fantastic season.

Victor Oladipo of the Indiana Pacers is All-Star worthy and so is Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers. Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors has been a regular selection the last four seasons and Toronto is one of the top teams in the NBA. That’s a tough combo to overcome.

Throw in Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards — who is stepping into a John Wall-sized hole in the lineup to keep his team in playoff contention — and Eric Bledsoe of the Milwaukee Bucks and you have a very crowded field from which the coaches will likely only choose three guards, possibly four.

Russell has some things working in his favor. The Nets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA over the last month and a half, so his success — and the team’s — are on the top of the coaches’ minds.

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But the biggest thing he has on his side is what he’s done on the court this season. If nothing else, it’s yet another lesson about not giving up on young players — especially young point guards — too quickly.