Nets guard D'Angelo Russell shoots a three-point shot against the Bulls...

Nets guard D'Angelo Russell shoots a three-point shot against the Bulls on Tuesday. Credit: AP/Kathy Willens

ORLANDO, Fla. — When the Nets traded for D’Angelo Russell in June 2017, the circumstances surrounding the Lakers’ decision to unload the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft suggested he might lack maturity and leadership skills, might be difficult to coach. But Kenny Atkinson and Nets general manager Sean Marks did their homework and determined Russell was an ideal candidate for development.

After Russell’s selection to the Eastern Conference All-Star team, Atkinson reflected on his first impression of the young point guard. “He said it to me, his dad said it to me, I talked to Thad Matta, his college coach [at Ohio State], and he said it to me — D’Angelo said, ‘I want you to coach me and I want you to coach me hard.’ Some guys say that and they don’t follow up on that. He followed up on that.

“As a staff, I don’t think we’ve coached a guy harder than we’ve coached D’Angelo. We’re on him. He really has taken it like a man and accepted the bad with the good. That’s a real credit to his maturity. I told him, ‘We’re going to keep coaching you hard, and I’ll keep holding you accountable.’  ”

Atkinson said Russell is especially close with assistant Jacque Vaughn, a former NBA point guard who has worked directly with him.

After falling short of expectations with the Lakers and going through an up-and-down first season with the Nets that was interrupted by arthroscopic knee surgery, Russell dedicated himself to improving in the offseason.

“That guy, he never left the building,” Atkinson said. “He really bought into what we’re doing.” 

Harris in 3-point contest?

According to an NBA source, Joe Harris will take part in the three-point shooting contest during All-Star Weekend. He ranks third in the NBA with a .462 three-point shooting percentage. That makes four Nets who will take part, including Russell in the All-Star Game and Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs in the Rising Stars Challenge.

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