The NBA has been dominated by stories of James Harden’s epic scoring run of 30-point games - which by the way ended on Feb. 25 – Paul George’s monster season, the Bucks’ surprising dominance, rookie Luka Doncic, and Anthony Davis being traded. What no one has seemed to notice – unless you’re a Nets fan – is the stunning performance by former castoff D’Angelo Russell and Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Nets currently sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, have not been to the postseason since 2015 which was also the last time they won more than 28 games. Brooklyn has been an afterthought for most of the past three-plus seasons. Then came the trade.
Russell was the second overall pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, selected by the Lakers. He had a so-so first season making the All-Rookie second team and then ended up playing just 63 games in Year 2 because of knee and calf injuries. As the Lakers looked to rebuild, Russell became expendable and was traded to Brooklyn along with Timofey Mozgov in exchange for Brook Lopez and the rights to Kyle Kuzma.
Another knee injury limited him to 48 games last season with the Nets. He averaged 15.5 points and 5.2 assists a game and was beginning to be considered a huge bust. That all changed this season.
A healthy Russell is averaging 20.5 points, 6.7 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. He is shooting 43.4 percent from the field and his performance thus far earned him his first trip to the NBA All-Star game (he was a member of Team Giannis). In the Nets past 34 games, Russell is averaging over 22 points and seven assists and the Nets are 23-11. It was this surge that pushed Brooklyn into sixth in the East.
The Nets had a recent stretch of six straight wins, including two very impressive victories over Boston (109-102) and Houston (145-142). Russell shot 13-of-26 from the floor, including 7-of-13 from 3-point range, and scored 34 points in the Celtics’ victory. He was held to 10 against Houston, but Spencer Dinwiddie erupted for 33 as the Nets won. Russell came back in Brooklyn’s next game, a win over Orlando, and put up 40.
In Brooklyn’s most recent win on Feb. 25, Russell had 23 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds in a 101-85 win over San Antonio. The Nets came together to produce the NBA’s second-lowest scoring output of the season. San Antonio had just 59 points entering the fourth quarter. The win was Brooklyn’s third in its last four games.
The Nets are currently 32-30 and trail fifth-place Boston by six games. Detroit is seventh and a game-and-a-half behind Brooklyn. Charlotte currently holds the eighth spot and is three games behind the Nets. Brooklyn’s schedule through the first half of March is manageable, but the Nets close the season with a very tough stretch.
Beginning Mar. 25, the Nets face the following: Portland, Philadelphia, Boston, Milwaukee, Toronto, Milwaukee again, and Indiana. While the Nets are projected to make the postseason – according to ESPN’s NBA BPI the Nets have a 91.6 percent chance – that final stretch of games will likely determine their final seed. Regardless, the 2018-19 Nets are a surprise that no one has seemed to notice … except for Nets fans.