D’Angelo Russell’s remarkable season is what is carrying the Nets to the playoffs

By Nicole Ganglani | Photo from Inquirer.net | Art by Marian Hukom

With less than a month to go before the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, the league only continues to heat up and get more competitive. All teams are expected to give their all to at least find a comfortable spot in the rankings or even push themselves to get in the playoffs picture.

That’s why it’s also the time for superstars to shine as they carry and lead their team in this last stretch. And that is exactly what Brooklyn superstar D’Angelo Russell has proved to the world. Russell has shown that he is more than just an all-star now, as he’s already on the verge of becoming one of the best point guards in the NBA.

After achieving a  career high of 44 points in yesterday’s game versus the Sacramento Kings, D’Angelo Russell scripted the biggest comeback in Brooklyn Nets history. The highlight of that script being the 27-point fourth quarter performance on 10-for-15 shooting the point guard pulled off in the dying minutes of the game.

While the Kings were up by 25 in the fourth, nobody expected Russell to find a way to erase the margin. Well, maybe except the hopeful players and fans donning the Brooklyn jersey. It was evident in the way Russell carried the ball down the stretch, and in the way he called and executed the plays that the crucial game was not over just yet.

Russell knew he was going to bring Brooklyn back not just through that game but also back to the Playoffs—something the Nets hasn’t been a part of in over three years.

Throughout the game, Russell scored threes after threes, even breaking the franchise record for threes made in a season. He dished out 12 assists,  efficiently orchestrated the pick-and-roll plays, and demonstrated his clutch gene. The crunch time of every basketball game indicates how well a star player plays under pressure—which Russell showed he is capable of in yesterday’s 123-121 victory.

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“I give a lot of credit to our bigs,” Russell said. “They set screens and got me open, got me downhill. Once you get downhill, any player that can get downhill and see the floor like that and see the rim wide open, the sky’s the limit.”

The leadership and confidence he has not just in himself but also in his teammates is proof that D’Angelo Russell has become the player the Los Angeles Lakers has always needed. It’s just too bad that the Lakers were not willing to invest in the promising 20-year-old kid out of Ohio State.

Back to Los Angeles

Rusell’s return to Los Angeles—the city that traded him away—is, needless to say, remarkable. Especially since he did so giving off a career-defining 30+ point double-double performance.

His current team stands at the seventh seed of the playoffs race—something the Los Angeles Lakers has not been a part of in the past six years. 

It’s clear that the new superstar of Brooklyn is the Lakers’ ultimate TOTGA (The One That Got Away). And as he steps onto the purple and gold floor of Staples Center this weekend, Russell knows that all the pain and rejection he faced as a Laker was all worth it.

“The pain, the storm that you go through, it’s always brighter on the other side when you just deal with it.” Russell mentioned in an interview with SLAM online.

Arguably, athletes probably experience failure and rejection more than anyone in this world. It’s part of the profession. How they cope with it, however, is just as similar as to how every human deals with adversity.

Take Russell’s case for example: He could have let rejection define him after getting kicked out of arguably the most iconic franchise in basketball. Instead, through hard work and sheer focus, he proved to the world that trading him out was one of the biggest mistakes the Los Angeles Lakers could ever have made.

“I get so focused on what I’m trying to achieve and I just look up and all of this is here,” stated Russell.

Yesterday’s career-high performance was only a glimpse of what the superstar has yet to show. Russell is a superstar who did not make a name for himself solely through talent and achievement—but more remarkably, through turning failure and rejection as motivation to unleash the best version of himself. 

The version that only D’Angelo Russell himself knew was there from the very start.