When news broke that Kyrie Irving was preparing to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell’s future with the team became even murkier. Brooklyn’s desire to star chase in free agency was clear, but the first domino appears to be wobbling and the ripple effect will impact Russell directly.
According to Ian Begley of SNY, the Nets are unlikely to retain the 23-year-old all-star if the team reaches a deal with Irving. If the organization renounces his rights to free up more cap space to acquire another star, Russell’s free agency options could open up even further with teams no longer being required to tie up space with an offer sheet.
The Dallas Mavericks are in the market for a playmaker alongside Luka Doncic, and Russell is coming off an impressive season.
Russell was traded to the Nets after two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and was on his way to a breakout season last year before suffering a left knee injury and undergoing arthroscopic surgery, which forced him to miss 31 games. He returned for the final 36 games but saw his scoring average and shooting percentages slip, ultimately adding another rocky season to his NBA career.
The former second overall pick bounced back and finished up his most impressive season of his four-year career. Russell compiled season-long averages (and career bests) of 21 points, seven assists and connected on 43 percent from the field, including 37 percent from three. Playing in 81 games, Russell received his first all-star berth and led the Nets to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
Arguably one of the most impressive feats of Russell’s breakout season was his ability to increase his contributions across the board while improving his efficiency. He bumped his scoring average up by nearly six points per game while shooting career highs from the field and behind the arc.
The 6’5’’ guard was one of the game’s elites at taking care of the ball. For the eight players that logged a 31 percent or higher usage rate, only Lou Williams, Kemba Walker and Donovan Mitchell committed fewer turnovers than Russell (3.1 turnovers per game). Protecting the ball allowed Russell to set up his teammates, and only Russell Westbrook bested his 41 percent assist rate.
The Nets guard displayed many of the traits that made him the second overall pick out of Ohio State in the 2015 draft. He paraded around the court with dazzling court vision and an array of ball handling moves, mixing herky jerky in-and-out crossovers with silky smooth ball fakes to make him one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league. The southpaw guard was one of two players in the entire league to score 21 points and notch seven assists while shooting 36 percent or better from three. The other player was James Harden.
Russell isn’t without flaws, and one of his biggest blemishes held him back on the biggest stage of his career when the Nets clashed with the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. Facing an elimination game on the road, Russell’s shot betrayed him. He went 3-of-16 from the field. Players can overcome tough shooting nights by getting to the free throw line, but not Russell. He attempted two free throws in Game 5 and only 13 in the entire series.
Russell struggled to get to the line the entire season. Of the 38 players who logged a usage rate of 25 percent or higher, only Klay Thompson registered a lower free throw rate (.113) than Russell (.135). To a fault, he relies on his smooth floater when he gets into the teeth of the defense rather than initiating contact at the rim. That might be instinctual because he struggles to finish at the basket. Per NBA.com, Russell shoots a below average mark at the cup even though he possess the size and length to finish in traffic.
Fit with the Mavericks
It’s no secret that Russell needs (and wants) the ball in his hands. And it was clear this season that goods things happened when Doncic orchestrated the Dallas offense. Both players logged top-ten usage rates last season, so pairing the two would require some give-and-take, and that doesn’t even account for the touches Kristaps Porzingis would require.
If there’s reason for encouragement it’s that Russell shot the ball well off the catch. Last season the lefty canned 39 percent of his catch-and-shoot opportunities and ranked in the 82nd percentile as a spot-up shooter. Russell was particularly effective in the corners where he shot 39 percent in the left corner and 63 percent in the right corner, albeit on only 33 and 19 attempts respectively.
While Russell is a dynamic offensive player, he and Doncic would be a sieve defensively. And even though he shot a career high from deep last season, the year before he shot only 32 percent. There’s a valid reason to wonder if his shooting stroke is serious.
Russell’s max deal outside of Brooklyn comes in at $117 million over four years, but it will be interesting to see how his market develops once Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker are off the table. Dallas should be looking to build the roster around Doncic and Porzingis, and Russell is not that type of piece. He requires a big piece of the pie, but 23-year-old All-Stars don’t hit the open market often, and Russell could be an opportunistic signing that propels Dallas into an offensive juggernaut.