D'Angelo Russell's production will be key to continuing Warriors dynasty


D'Angelo Russell's production will be key to continuing Warriors dynasty

SAN FRANCISCO – As the Warriors embark on their season of mystery, with ifs, hopes and maybes around every corner, no one on the roster embodies this as snugly as D’Angelo Russell.

We know what the best of Stephen Curry looks like and it’s enough to make him the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.

We know what the best of Draymond Green offers, and it’s a 6-foot-7 forward guarding five positions, earning the Defensive Player of the Year award and shooting 39 percent from deep.

We know what the best of Klay Thompson looks like, a one-man scoring cyclone, but there is no knowing when it might be seen again.

Which brings us back to Russell, acquired in July and arriving at training camp as the team’s fourth All-Star and unchallenged X-factor.

If D-Lo is an efficient scorer, galvanizing passer and adequate defender, it will make the Warriors hell to play in the regular season and – assuming a late-season return by Thompson – even more of a monster in the postseason.

If Russell fails in one or more of those areas, the Warriors could find themselves light years away from a top-four seed and fighting like hell to make the playoffs.

The most important on-court element might be the defense. The absence of Thompson -- who is a very good wing defender -- for most of the season, drops a heavy but crucial burden into Russell’s lap. To his credit, Russell on Tuesday dove headlong into those concerns.

“I'm just trying to learn from Draymond as much as I can,” he said Monday. “There's a reason he is who he is. There's a reason that players know him for what they know him for. So, anyway, I can just kind of stay in his bubble and then learn as much as I can from that aspect, I think the sky's the limit.”

There is reason to believe the 23-year-old Russell can be decent on defense. He’s a splendid athlete standing 6-foot-5, with a wingspan listed at 6-10. He also entered the draft at 19 and spent his first four NBA seasons establishing himself on offense, sometimes to the detriment of his defense.

Russell’s impact on defense, then, is less a matter of ability than application. That’s where coaching comes in. That’s also where Green can set the bar. If Draymond accepts the invitation to stay in D’Lo’s ear, it should pay off. It has to, or else opposing guards will be lining up to fatten their stats against the Warriors.

Then there is the passing. Having spent most of his basketball life as a point guard, Russell, is comfortable moving the ball. He posted a career-high 7.0 assists per game with the Nets last season and seems almost anxious to immerse himself into his new team’s passing culture.

“With this style of play that we play with here, the pass is valued,” Russell said. “The pass is what gets a guy the shot. The pass is what keeps the offense flowing. A lot of guys are forced to double-team, so you have to get off of it, and that creates an advantage downhill."

"I think just adding another passer on to the team, myself, it just can help the team. Guys are going to be in the right play to make that happen.”

Said Thompson: “I've been watching D'Angelo for years now, and he's an amazing passer, and I don't think he's played with two shooters like me and Steph.”

That fact is, however, irrelevant until Thompson returns from ACL surgery, and it will be a surprise if that happens before March.

The scoring ability at his age is one of the assets that attracted the Warriors to Russell. He averaged a team-high 21.1 points per game while shooting 36.9 percent beyond the arc last season. He also took 18.7 shots per game, more than any Warrior not named Curry (19.4), but the result was the Nets making the playoffs for the first time since 2015.

Knowing they are scheduled to be the starting backcourt on opening night, Curry and Russell spent some time over the summer getting to know each other. That’s a wholesome start developing a bond that has to stick.

“I know the coaching staff and whatnot have a lot of opportunity to kind of mix and match lineups and try to figure things out as we go, and there's going to be a lot of fine-tuning and testing things out,” Curry said. “But it’s two talented guys that know how to put the ball in the basket, know how to make plays for each other and teammates, and have proven what we can do in this league. And if you have the confidence you can figure it out.”

The Warriors pursued Russell because they lost a tremendous scorer in Kevin Durant and because Curry and Thompson are bookending 30. There is a need to start refreshing the roster with talent, and Russell fills it.

[RELATED: Klay won't reveal where in San Francisco he moved to]

“His team did well, he did well, and we're excited to see how he fits with us,” general manager Bob Myers said. “We think he'll be good, and that process starts (Tuesday).”

The process actually started over the summer, and it was positive. The only way it works once the games matter is if it continues on that path.

NBA Draft 2020: Deni Avdija celebrated Warriors' 2015 title in old photo

NBA Draft 2020: Deni Avdija celebrated Warriors' 2015 title in old photo

If the Warriors select 19-year-old Deni Avdija in the early stages of the 2020 NBA Draft, they'll be picking a player who appears to have been a fan of the franchise for at least a quarter of his life.

The Israeli-Serbian forward has been lighting up the Israeli Basketball Premier League for Maccabi Tel Aviv, averaging 18.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. ESPN's NBA draft guru Mike Schmitz describes Avdija as an "aggressive offensive player who is in attack mode every time he steps onto the floor," who, "loves shooting pull-up 3-pointers in transition."

Hmmm. Sound familiar?

That would seem to mirror the way the Warriors played throughout their (still ongoing?) dynastic run. Given a photo posted to Avdija's Instagram in September of 2016, it would appear he has been a fan of Golden State for some time.

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מה זה בית ספר #🇪🇸

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That's the Warriors 2015 NBA Champions hat that Avdija is wearing while apparently sailing off the coast of Spain. A good-looking hat for an even better view.

[RELATED: Watch potential Dubs draft target Avdija dominate in Israel]

Just throwing this out there, but I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess he's a pretty big fan of Steph Curry, too.

Maybe, just maybe, they'll be teammates within a few months, and Avdija will have more Warriors apparel than he'll know what to do with.

Shaq gives outrageous breakdown of potential Lakers-Warriors matchup

Shaq gives outrageous breakdown of potential Lakers-Warriors matchup

Shaquille O'Neal won't back down from this debate.

The Hall of Fame center is 100 percent convinced his three-peat Los Angeles Lakers were better than the Steph Curry and Kevin Durant-led Warriors.

Shaq has made it clear over the last two years that he believes the 1999 through 2002 championship Lakers would have easily beaten the 2016 through 2019 Warriors in a hypothetical matchup.

The Diesel even claimed that the Warriors wouldn't have been a contender during the Lakers' dominant run.

But in an interview with Maxim Magazine published Tuesday, Shaq said the Lakers starters would have won every 1-on-1 matchup with the Warriors.

Brace yourselves, Warriors fans.

"I have a hard time believing that the greatest coach of all time (Phil Jackson), plus me and Kobe [Bryant], wouldn’t match up quite nicely against Steve Kerr and his gang," Shaq said. "Kobe takes Steph and dominates him. [Derek] Fisher takes Klay and manhandles him. [Rick] Fox takes Draymond and makes him foul out in the first half. Horace [Grant] would do his thing with K.D. But let’s be real, K.D., is a beast, and you can only do so much with him. And then I’d remind [Zaza] Pachulia why I am in the Hall of Fame and he is not."

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Where do we even begin?

Yes, Kobe was an elite defender, but Curry is a generational talent. He would not have been dominated by Bryant. Steph against a prime Kobe would have been must-see TV, but it wouldn't have been as one-sided as Shaq believes.

If Shaq thinks Klay would be manhandled by anyone, let alone Fisher, he hasn't watched the Warriors shooting guard enough. Thompson has five inches on Fisher and would just shoot right over him.

If Fox tried to bully Draymond, the Warriors forward would pull a Doug Christie and sock him in the jaw. Draymond's motor would give him the edge in that matchup.

Durant would get his against Grant or any other defender the Lakers threw at him. You know who he is. He's Kevin Durant.

The only matchup the Lakers win hands down is Shaq vs. Zaza. Sorry, Zaza.

Shaq's Lakers were able to do something the Warriors weren't able to do: Three-peat. But Golden State very likely would have accomplished the feat if Durant and Thompson had been healthy for the entirety of the 2019 NBA Finals.

[RELATED: Why Curry, Dubs would dominate Lakers]

Yes, Shaq has every right to defend his Lakers teams, but to say they would completely dominate those Warriors teams is a bit far-fetched. Before Durant arrived, the Warriors won 73 games. After he signed, they steamrolled the league on their way to back-to-back NBA titles, and could have three-peated.

This debate will never be settled, but one thing is for sure. Shaq won't let it go.