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Best case/worst case: D’Angelo Russell

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The Warriors have a new All-Star. How good can he be?

Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

With the NBA season starting this week, we’re running through mini previews of the Golden State Warriors’ 16 players, focusing on what their best and worst case scenario is for the upcoming year. Next up is the offseason’s big acquisition, D’Angelo Russell. You can check out the other best case/worst case articles below:

Ky Bowman
Alec Burks
Willie Cauley-Stein
Marquese Chriss
Stephen Curry
Jacob Evans III
Draymond Green
Damion Lee
Kevon Looney
Eric Paschall
Jordan Poole
Glenn Robinson III

Preseason stats

4 games, 18.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game

53.6% 2FG, 35.5% 3FG, 90.0% FT, 56.8% true-shooting

2018-19 stats (Nets)

81 games, 21.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game

48.2% 2FG, 36.9% 3FG, 78.0% FT, 53.3% true-shooting

Role on the 2019-20 Warriors

The Warriors have ten new players for this season. It’s quite possible that D’Angelo Russell has a bigger role than the other nine combined.

That’s obviously a little hyperbolic as far as on-court production is concerned, but it’s probably true from a narrative standpoint. Russell, a 23-year old All-Star, represents the new era of Warriors basketball. He is the star talent they were able to land to help soften the blow of losing Kevin Durant. He’s the guy they willingly gave up Andre Iguodala - and risked losing Kevon Looney - to have. He’s the guard they committed $117 million over four years to - more than they’re paying Draymond Green.

Russell’s role, then, is to justify those decisions. To play second banana to Steph Curry, and try and form the top backcourt in the league. He’ll get a lot of touches, a lot of shots, and a lot of plays drawn up for him. He’ll be treated like a star, and used accordingly.

Best case scenario

Russell is a slightly polarizing player. Many believe he had a tremendous season a year ago, while others are a bit skeptical (full disclosure: I’m in the latter camp).

Regardless of where you land in that evaluation, there’s no denying that Russell is supremely talented, and oozing with potential. The best case scenario, of course, is that a lot of it actualizes.

He’s in a good environment for that to happen. After having his best season last year, while being the focal point of the Brooklyn Nets’ offense, he gets to play sidekick to the game’s greatest offensive talent. He’ll be left open far more than he was last year, and when he runs the pick and role with Green, Looney, Willie Cauley-Stein, or Marquese Chriss, the defense won’t collapse as much (when Curry is on the court).

Russell will be in a good offensive system, designed to maximize the efficiency of his opportunities. He’ll get to play off ball and on ball, and he’ll get to be the beneficiary of Curry’s gravity, while also running the second unit.

It’s all set up for him to have a monster offensive season, if he can capitalize on the opportunities, and make some shot selection improvements to increase his efficiency. More threes, please. Fewer deep floaters.

While not a good defensive player, Russell showed a lot more on that end of the court last year than in his first three seasons. Green and Kerr will likely put pressure on Russell to expend energy on defense, and put those tools to work.

The best case scenario, then, is an electric and decently efficient second fiddle, who averages 25 and 7 while not leaving a full Klay Thompson-sized hole in wing defense. That’s a good player to have.

Worst case scenario

Russell was praised a year ago for having a great offensive season. 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game will do that to you.

Here’s the uglier side: A 53.3% true-shooting percentage. For perspective, that ranked 157th among qualified players in the league. As a team, the Warriors true-shooting percentage was 59.6%.

In other words, you can’t just plug Russell’s 20-25 points a night in as a replacement for Thompson and Durant. It doesn’t work like that.

As I laid out above, there are great avenues for Russell to improve as a scorer, and those represent the best case scenario, and other very good scenarios. The worst case scenario is that he doesn’t improve as shot maker and shot selector, and that his 36.9% mark from distance a year ago regresses to the 34.4% mark that he held for the first three years of his career.

Russell plays slowly. Really slowly. Molasses slowly. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it’s not the Warriors style, either. If he plays slowly, while taking nearly as many shots as Curry, but shooting with below-average efficiency? It’s not gonna be pretty.

And if he does that with the less-than-stellar defense that we’ve seen throughout his career? That isn’t going to unlock title contention for the Dubs.

Two other things of note when thinking about Russell’s worst case scenario. First, while with the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell developed a reputation for immaturity. That was likely due to both his age and the dysfunction of the organization, as reports from Brooklyn were pretty good. But if he’s immature in the locker room - and lacks focus defensively on the court - it’s fair to wonder if the Warriors veterans (namely Green) and coaches might get into him a little bit. And if they do, how will he handle that? It could result in a sticky situation.

Second, there have been rumors that the Warriors signed Russell to trade him. Those have been refuted by the team, but it’s safe to say that he’s viewed as an asset: He’ll either help the team on the court, or help them acquire someone who will. If he plays poorly or develops a poor reputation, that compromises the team’s ability to use his $117 million contract as an asset, rather than a liability.