During the Nets’ first prolonged training camp scrimmage on Tuesday, D’Angelo Russell committed a turnover, and coach Kenny Atkinson stopped and called out his starting point guard for the error. Upon further review later that night, Atkinson realized that was Russell’s only turnover of the whole session.
“I felt a little guilty,” Atkinson said after Thursday’s light workout. “Jeez, he had the ball in his hands all practice and had one turnover and I pointed it out . . . The next day, I said, ‘You did a hell of a job handling the ball, and I pointed out the only turnover you made.’ His response was, ‘Keep coaching me.’ That’s the kind of rapport we have.”
Russell permitted himself a small smile when Atkinson’s mea culpa was relayed to him. “I told him I want that,” Russell said. “If you want to sub me out because of a turnover, however you decide to do it, I trust it. But trust me, there’s no way you’re mad more than I am about the turnover. Like I said, I think I’ve taken that step.”
While third-year wing Caris LeVert has elicited tons of praise from coaches and teammates for his offseason development, the Nets’ focal point remains their fourth-year point guard, whose dedication to his offseason workouts was remarkable.
“I saw an elite work ethic,” Atkinson said of Russell. “Every time I walked in the weight room, he was there. It gives me confidence as a coach, and I think as a player, he knows he put in the work in the offseason.”
Russell’s first Nets season was limited by injuries to 48 games, and he came off the bench for 13 of those games. There also was one game in which Atkinson benched him in the first quarter, never to return.
But it seems clear that Russell has grown from the experience. Cutting down turnovers and playing better defense has been a point of emphasis for him, but he is on the verge of taking a step forward with his offensive decision-making.
“That’s really understanding what the defense is giving you,” Atkinson said. “Sometimes you have to go out and get 25 as a point guard. It’s the Steve Nash-Chris Paul model. It depends how the defense is playing you. There’s other nights you might get four points and 12 assists. We’ve seen positive signs the first couple of days as far as moving that ball around.”
In fact, Russell identified improved decision-making as his priority. “If you can score . . . and pass the ball at this level, the hardest thing is figuring out when you want to pass and when you want to score,” he said. “I feel like I’m there. I feel like I’ve taken the jump just knowing that’s what I had to figure out to get me there.”
Notes & quotes: Asked if there will be repercussions from Kenneth Faried’s recent arrest for marijuana possession that might affect his availability, Atkinson said, “I had my interaction with Kenneth, and we talked about it. I just want to leave it at that.” . . . Shabazz Napier (hamstring) and Alan Williams (sprained ankle) are out for an undetermined time.