No one has ever doubted whether D’Angelo Russell can play. The question is can he win?
The boxscore shows how talented Russell is, but his teams’ won-loss records leave the notion of him being a winner up for debate.
“You look at a player like D’Angelo who is looking for his first big contract. Can he win? That’s what [general manager Sean] Marks has to find out,” one Western Conference scout told The Post after watching Russell in the preseason.
Then Mike Fratello, who watched Russell up close while broadcasting games for YES Network, posed the same question on NBA TV. He pointed out that 18 of the Nets’ 28 victories last season came with Spencer Dinwiddie at point guard.
“This guy is a big shot-maker. He can make shots. Can he help a team win? That’s what I’m waiting to see,” Fratello said. “Can he take that leadership role and bring guys together and get Ws on the board? There’s no question he’s talented. There’s no question this guy can knock down shots, and with range. But can he get a team to win?”
That might be the single biggest thing the Nets have to learn this season and the answer will steer their next offseason.
“I want to win. I want to win. I’ve lost a lot in this league, so I think if we win, everyone gets what they want,” Russell said candidly. “If you don’t get it here, you’ll get it somewhere else. Winning, I think, is the problem solver.”
It’s a message veteran Jared Dudley has repeatedly given Russell.
Marks had long ago decided not to give Russell a rookie-scale extension by Monday’s deadline, instead likely extending him a qualifying offer next summer to let him hit restricted free agency. They’re letting it ride and letting him earn his money. And the 22-year-old point guard is fine with that.
“I didn’t know that [deadline], honestly. So whatever happens, happens,” Russell said. “I definitely care about what they think of me as a player. But as far as numbers and stuff go, we’re planning on just playing the season out, going into the summer, seeing how the season goes and just playing it off that.
“Yeah, that’s the goal. You want to earn an extension.You want to sign a contract at the end of the day. As far as the timetable on it, I don’t think there’s any pressure. I try to let my play make that happen. It’s really up to your play. I don’t think you can talk about it or anything. And teams know what type of player I am. I think my play is the only thing that can solidify that.”
Russell had said this week he would use being in a contract year as motivation, use watching others land extensions to fuel his own drive for one next summer.
“That’s the goal. You see someone getting those extension numbers and getting those, that contract extension, that motivates everybody,” Russell said.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson likes Russell’s mindset.
“I think that’s good. I’m good with it.I’m good with that attitude.It’s a good attitude to have. He’s proved it by being with us all offseason. He didn’t go to L.A. or Kentucky. He was with us, and he worked his tail off,” said Atkinson, adding “His defense is improved, because his body’s better, he’s stronger.”
Before knee surgery that cost Russell more than two months last season, he was averaging a scalding 20.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds. Yet he was still a minus 5.8, and finished a minus 3.8, thanks to porous defense and a penchant for turnovers. Shore that up and he’s the closest thing the Nets have to an All-Star.
“He’s the future of the franchise, the franchise PG and all that stuff,” Dinwiddie said. “I’m just here to help the Nets win as many games as possible.”
If Russell can lead them to more wins, he’ll likely get his extension.