Brooklyn Nets combo guard D’Angelo Russell has gotten off to a strong start this season, scoring the ball efficiently.
ESPN’s Kevin Pelton described spot-up shooting as Russell’s “best offensive skill” back in February 2017 and that aspect of his game has been a big reason for his early success. Pelton believed that Russell would be most effective when on the court next to a point guard.
Before the season, Palace of Pistons founder Aaron Johnson predicted this type of leap for the former No. 2 overall pick (via Hoop Magazine):
“Last season we saw a glimpse of the potential Russell had before he suffered an injury that made him miss significant time and lose the rhythm he had found. I don’t know if anyone can do what [Victor] Oladipo did last season, but Russell should be able to compete for a spot on the All-Star team. He should spend more time off the ball, as the team looks committed to starting Spencer Dinwiddie as well after signing Shabazz Napier to back up the point guard spot. That will alleviate some pressure from Russell, and give him some opportunities to be a spot-up shooter, an area of his game that should thrive. I wouldn’t bet the house on it, but Russell could be in store for a big season.”
Russell, 22, has averaged 5.7 points per game on spot-up possessions for Brooklyn. That ranks Top 10 among all players in the league, per Synergy Sports. It’s comparable with Golden State’s Stephen Curry and currently ahead of sharpshooters like Portland’s CJ McCollum and Phoenix’s Devin Booker.
During his first season with Brooklyn, the guard averaged 2.5 points per game on this play type. But he finished just 12.4 percent of his possessions spotting up. So far this season, as Johnson suggested, that figure has nearly doubled to 22.6 percent. That’s a clear change of pace for someone who had typically played more on-ball earlier in his career.
For comparison, he averaged 2.0 points per game on spot-ups during his final year with the Los Angeles Lakers. Russell was used on this play type for just 11.5 percent of his possessions that season.
But even during his time in Los Angeles, his former assistant coach Larry Lewis told Michael Pina that there was significant room for improvement behind the arc (via Bleacher Report):
“I don’t think there’s any limit to the type of shooter he can be. And when I say that I mean as a spot-up shooter and off the dribble… I don’t think anyone’s seen him shoot the way we will see him shoot.”
When he was a rookie, Russell averaged 2.4 points per game when spotting up. He finished 15.5 percent of his offensive possessions this way, which was his career-high before this season. That was consistent with his usage on this play type (14.5 percent) in his sole season at Ohio State. Now that it’s above 20 percent, perhaps Lewis’ assessment can be proven correct.
Even if he is unable to sustain such an impressive pace, he is showing an ability to knock these shots down efficiently.
Russell has the skills to run the team as a point guard, of course. But with Caris LeVert emerging as a point forward capable of facilitating an offense, too, the former No. 2 pick can keep perfecting his three-point shot.