After being selected second overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, D’Angelo Russell was thought to be the heir apparent to Kobe Bryant once the Los Angeles Lakers legend retired. In his lone season at Ohio State, Russell dazzled audiences with his combination of passing and shooting, two areas of need for a struggling Lakers squad. With Russell in town, Los Angeles seemed to be set up for life after Bryant.
The narrative quickly changed, however, as Russell soon found himself in then-head coach Byron Scott’s doghouse. After starting the 2015-16 NBA season as the starting point guard, he was later relegated to the bench and had little room to develop. While Russell was able to sporadically flash the outside shooting and playmaking he displayed in college, it was still considered to be a letdown season for the young guard.
Fortunately, Russell would get his chance to shine again his sophomore season, as Bryant eventually retired and Luke Walton became the team’s new head coach. Walton stated he wanted to implement a more up-and-down, free-flowing offense much like the Golden State Warriors and Russell was immediately thought to be a breakout sophomore candidate under such a system. However, the 2016-2017 season was another inconsistent one as he struggled with injuries and shifting roles. After initially starting the season at point guard, Russell would eventually finish out the year as the team’s shooting guard.
Russell’s time with Los Angeles abruptly ended as he was traded along with Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets. While the move was a shock across the league, Russell expressed his eagerness to prove himself in Brooklyn.
“Honestly, it’s different from my first year to my second year,” Russell told Lakers Index at the 15th annual Gatorade Athlete of the Year Awards in Los Angeles. “I’m going to put in the work. I don’t really know what to expect my third year, but it’s been great from year to year, so I’m really looking forward to that.”
Brooklyn, much like Los Angeles, has been mired in their own rut as they have been near the bottom of the league’s standings the past couple of seasons. However, with a savvy new general manager in Sean Marks and a well-regarded head coach in Kenny Atkinson, the Nets appear to be on their way back to relevance. Russell figures to be part of the team’s future and has been diligently preparing for the new season.
“Just going as hard as I can every day without killing myself,” Russell said. “Getting the opportunity to play basketball for six months throughout the year is a long time, so trying to prepare myself, my body and mentally get prepared the best I can.”
Atkinson transformed the Nets last season into a modern NBA team, allowing his players to get up and down the court in transition and hoist up three-pointers at will. Despite finishing with the league’s worst record, Atkinson successfully implemented his offense and established a new culture for his young team. While Russell has only been a Net for less than a month, he has already gotten the chance to sit and talk with his new coach.
“He’s a great dude,” Russell said. I’m really looking forward to working with him. I know he’s a hungry coach. He has something to prove and I have something to prove, so I think we’re going to work well together.”
While the two have not discussed any game plans or roles yet, Russell admitted he was “looking forward to whatever situation he [Atkinson] puts me in” and “that he was going to make the best out of it.” A player and coach’s relationship is integral to on-the-court success and it appears that both have already begun to build a solid foundation going forward.
One of the situations Russell may have to navigate in his first year with Brooklyn is what position he should play. His flashy passing immediately pigeonholed him as a point guard, but Russell’s scoring ability has been the skill that has translated most to the NBA. As such, Russell expressed his belief that he can comfortably play either guard position.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Russell said.” I think it helped me because it showed that I could be versatile and I could be anywhere. Any position, I’m going to make the best out of it and I don’t think it’s a struggle for me.”
In an environment where all the spotlight will not be on him, Russell will have plenty of opportunities to show what kind of player he can become. In a league that is dominated by perimeter players, the young Nets guard is solely focused on perfecting his game and reaching his potential. When discussing his own personal goals for the upcoming season, Russell kept it simple.
“Just want to be the best I can be,” Russell said. “Like I said, from Year 1 to Year 2 was an exciting year for me, so Year 2 to Year 3 is going to be even better.”