I have identified three players in the eastern conference, one from each division that this year intrigues me for different reasons. Some are high draft picks who haven’t clicked yet and the clock is ticking. Others may be poised to break out if they round out a few parts of their game.
Something that these players have in common is they are all facing massive seasons. Pressure is on them to show progress in their development. Their teams are counting on them, and in some cases, it may be their last chance for that team. None of these players are stars yet, but some have the talent to be.
Without further ado, here are the three most intriguing players in the Eastern Conference for the 2018-2019 NBA season:
D’Angelo Russell, G, Brooklyn Nets
The former number two overall pick got a fresh start with the Brooklyn Nets last season after two up and down years with the Lakers. Russell started off strong averaging 20.9 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds on 46% shooting from the field. Then he hurt his knee and wasn’t quite the same.
He came back to play the last 36 games of the season but didn’t look like himself until about the last month. Add it up, and Russell played 48 games averaging 15.5 points, 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds on 41% shooting from the field. About the same numbers, he posted in his last year in L.A
The story has been the same for Russell, he showed great flashes, but can’t put it together consistently whether it be injury or just poor play. There were some encouraging signs though from Russell last year. He posted career highs assist percentage and rebound percentage, showing he is a complete player.
Russell also spent time on and off the ball showing his versatility. In particular, his playmaking took a big step as his assist percentage was one of the best marks in the league ranking in the 89th percentile according to cleaning the glass.
As a scorer, I like him off the ball a little more. Even though he only shot 32% from three last year, Russell is a pretty good shooter; he takes a lot of bad ones. He can get hot though, and as a spot up-player, he ranked in the 77th percentile according to Synergy Sports. When he spots up, he is excellent at using a pump and drive game to get to the rim or make a play for a teammate. He is an above average finisher at the rim, but he is best in the midrange. His pull up jumper is lethal.
Russell has got Dario Saric isolated on him at the top of the key and goes to work. Two crossovers to set up his defender up, one hard dribble to his right, stops on a dime and nails the jumper from the elbow. Russell knows how to get to his spot, and is excellent at setting up his defender. His start and stop ability to is one of the best in the league.
To improve his efficiency, Russell must get to the line more and improve his free throw percentage. He is too good of a shooter to shoot only 74% from the line. If he improves his shot selection especially from deep, he can get to the 36-38% range from deep.
Defensively, there are tools to work with. He is a good defensive rebounder, a good shot blocking guard, and a low foul player. His pick and roll defense is underrated as well, as he has the strength to fight through screens. Where he struggles is more off the ball and with rotations. His effort comes and go. I thought last year was his best defensive year yet though and I think will be even better this year.
I am expecting Russell to break out. By all counts, he is healthy and in the best shape of his life. That will help him get tot he rim more, draw more fouls and improve his efficiency. Russell has the talent, skills and physical tools to average 20 points, five assist and five rebounds per game while playing above average defense. I think he puts it all together this year especially if he improves his three-point shot.
Next Up: Player 2