In the 10 games D’Angelo Russell has played since returning from a nearly 10-week absence to recover from arthroscopic left knee surgery, he has seen his role change from starter to backup, his minutes decline from 27.7 to just under 18 per game and his scoring average go from 20.9 per game as a starter to 8.6 as a reserve. That is not how the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft ever has viewed himself, and the adjustment admittedly has been difficult.
“It’s a super adjustment,” Russell said following practice on Friday. “I’ve never been in that position. It’s just new to me.”
When he first returned, Russell was on a “minutes limit” determined by the Nets’ performance team in conjunction with Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who said he still believes Russell is “getting up to speed” in his recovery. When asked if it has been tough to regain his rhythm in limited minutes, Russell indicated he’s in the dark about any minutes restrictions.
“I feel like it’s a situation where the performance team has a say, coach has a say, and they go about it that way. Once again, I feel great [physically]. It’s up to coach to make those decisions. Even when I was playing earlier in the season, I wasn’t playing a consistent 30 minutes.”
No one in Atkinson’s time with the Nets has averaged 30 minutes per game because he believes in utilizing depth to help his team play at a fast pace and defend aggressively. But there’s no doubt, Russell’s shooting has been impacted by the change, dropping from 46.3 percent overall as a starter to 34.0 percent as a backup and from a relatively poor 30.0 percent from three-point range as a starter to 23.5 percent off the bench.
The coach acknowledged Russell has fared better with the starters than with the second unit. “We’ve got to figure out how to get him with that first unit a little more because his minutes with the first unit were pretty good,” Atkinson said. “I think that will help him . . . We’ve talked about it. I think we’re going to get there, but there’s a progression to it. Quite honestly, he’s got to perform better. He’s got to earn it.”
Russell understands Atkinson wants him to cut down on turnovers and improve his shot selection. In a sense, it’s part of the development process Russell is undergoing to adapt his game to the Nets’ playing style.
“I don’t even know if I’ve been in the league long enough to know my own style of play,” Russell said candidly. “But it’s definitely something you’ve got to adjust to when you go to a different team. You can’t be in a situation where you don’t fit in and you stand out. So, I’m definitely trying to fit in, however that may be.”
The hope when Russell was acquired from the Lakers last summer was that he might become the cornerstone the Nets build around. While the present might be frustrating to Russell, as well as to his fans, he’s trying to take the long view.
“I can’t control right now,” Russell said. “Those guys [Nets coaches] preach the future. Those questions [reporters] ask have an effect right now. I don’t really stress it because I know they’re putting me in the best position to be great down the road.”
Notes & quotes: Veteran forward Dante Cunningham, acquired on Thursday, is expected to be in uniform against the Pelicans, his former team, Saturday night at Barclays Center . . . Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin strain) and Caris LeVert (sprained knee) are out, but Quincy Acy (sprained finger) is available.