D'Angelo Russell Figured Out the NBA Game With Time

By Ben Stinar
D'Angelo Russell in glasses and a suit.
D'Angelo Russell in glasses and a suit. / Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

D'Angelo Russell is a budding superstar.

Last season, the former No. 2 overall pick came into his own as a 22-year-old All-Star with the Brooklyn Nets, averaging 21.1 points and 7 assists per game. He also led the Nets to a playoff berth that not many saw coming.

Everything suddenly clicked. Why? Time.

"Shit. Four years in will give you a lot of time to figure out the game," Russell told The Big Lead after the Warriors lost to the Hawks on Monday.

This past summer the Nets went big-fish hunting, signing big-name All-Stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The decision to go all-in left Russell in a spot where he had to find a new team, a rare occurrence for a young, talented, seemingly-improving player. Yet, this was not his first time being overlooked.

At one point, arguably the game's greatest point guard, Magic Johnson, gave up on Russell. Two seasons into his Lakers' career he was traded to the Nets. Another two seasons with the Nets and he is now on the Warriors.

The only difference? This time he is coveted.

Instead of being viewed as a potential bust, he is now a potential superstar with a four-year, $117 million contract to prove it.

"You see a lot of young guys in the league, they struggle," he said. "They blossom with time. Time is what it is."

No one questions if Russell was worth being a top pick anymore. He is proven on that front. The next phase is elevating his game to another level. There are stars and there are superstars. Staying motivated with the fame and money at such a young age is what separates the Hall of Famers from every other player.

"That's within yourself," he said.

Every season there is a new crop of young players that are deemed as the next great thing, just as Russell was in 2015 coming out of Ohio State.

"Young guys coming in every year. They look up to guys in the league that are established," he said. "They want to come for my spot. I'm trying to keep my feet in, stay locked into the game, stay true to the game and I think that's all I can control now a days."

Now, still only 23-years-old, Russell won't hit his prime for at least another three years. At this point, there is more learning to do. Even as great as he is, there are still areas of his game that he can improve upon.

"I think every year you learn things throughout the year that you'd want to improve on," he said.

This season, he has only appeared in 10 games, which is less than half of the Warriors' 22 games. In those 10 games he is averaging 24.3 points and 6.7 assists. After missing three early games and returning to the lineup, he is now in the midst of missing his ninth game in a row due to a sprained thumb. However, a return is near. He was seen warming up before the Lakers latest game looking good as he made shots.

Although he has not played much this season, there is one thing that he knows he already wants to improve on right now.

"I just want to learn how to take over games and win games at a consistent rate," he said. "No matter who's around, no matter who we're playing against, no matter who's on your team. You just find a way to win. I think that's a tool that I'm trying to continue to develop."