Column: Get D’Angelo Russell in the All-Star Game

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Brooklyn Nets guard D’Angelo Russell (1) shooting over Sacramento Kings guard Yogi Ferrell (3) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 21, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Howard Simmons)

The Brooklyn Nets have won 18 of their last 23 games. They’re 9-2 in January. The same team that won just 28 games a year ago currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, just one spot behind the Boston Celtics, the team who many expected would win the conference by a mile.

Nets fans obviously have reason to be overjoyed, but it’s a turnaround that should make any sports fan smile. And no player has been more pivotal in that turnaround than D’Angelo Russell.

Russell was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday, the first Net to earn that honor in three years. During Brooklyn’s current five-game win streak, here’s what Russell has done per game: 28 points (including a career-high 40 against Orlando), 4.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists (and two turnovers), shooting 50 percent from the floor and a whopping 50 percent from 3-point land. If he can continue to drill the three at even close to his recent success, Russell goes from a very good point guard to an elite scorer.

When Russell is hot, the Nets are simply a different team. And while he’s been especially hot lately, he’s been doing this all season.

Russell is having his best season yet by essentially every stat and metric, and it’s not particularly close. He’s averaging 19.2 points a game, 3.7 boards, 6.4 assists and is shooting 43.8 percent from the floor, all well above previous career bests. Those last two numbers are particularly encouraging, given that Russell has in the past struggled to facilitate offense and take wise shots.

D’Angelo Russell should be an All-Star this year.

I’m of the mindset that what makes a player an All-Star is, like the MVP award at the end of the season, based on the value they bring to their team. Players who are most integral to their team’s success, and therefore most valuable, deserve All-Star consideration. I’ll tell you one thing: The Nets aren’t 26-23 if Russell’s not on the roster.

And if you’re in the school of thinking that All-Stars should come from winning teams, for the first time since coming to Brooklyn, Russell checks that box. Sure, Golden State just got DeMarcus Cousins back and look as unbeatable as we all expected. But the hottest team in basketball over the last month? That goes to the Nets.

Look, I know Russell’s got some obstacles to overcome. For one, the NBA still uses an outdated format with three frontcourt players and two guards from each conference in the starting lineup (I mean we have 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons being pigeonholed as a guard), meaning there’s some pretty good names—Kemba, Kyrie, Kyle—competing with Russell. But being a reserve, especially with the unfortunate injury to Vic Oladipo, is certainly realistic.

It’s also important to note that Russell certainly hasn’t done it alone in Brooklyn. Spencer Dinwiddie (now injured) is simply otherworldly, and, it turns out, pretty dang clutch. Jarrett Allen has made it his mission to embarrass every superstar in the NBA. All of this has been without the injured (but soon returning!) Caris LeVert, who was the Nets’ best player before going down in November.

And of course, in the sad-but-true category, the Nets simply don’t have the same national spotlight and fanbase as other teams, hurting Russell’s chances. That’s partly why he didn’t even crack the top-10 guards from the East in the latest voting returns.

But the window is certainly still open.

When Russell arrived in Brooklyn in 2017, I was admittedly skeptical—and I still am a little skeptical. Because many of those same eye-raising concerns that got him shipped out of Los Angeles still show up here and there. His habits of poor shot selection, lack of leadership, ‘score first, pass never’ tendencies are all still on display at times.

But he, along with the Nets, has seemingly finally turned a corner. And when Russell is on, there are few better in the Eastern Conference.

The fan vote, which counts for 50 percent of the vote, has closed. That now just leaves the media and the players, each of which get 25 percent to recognize Russell’s brilliance. I sure hope they do.


Andrew Morrison is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.morrison@uconn.edu. He tweets at @asmor24

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