Bust. Snitch. Rat. Immature.
All words that have been linked to Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell. Each term used unfairly in describing the 20-year-old Louisville native.
When the Snapchat mishap came to be, Russell’s national image took a nosedive. Many news outlets put the former Buckeye in a negative spotlight, showing little to no remorse. Months after the event, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams continue the media onslaught on Russell.
— Grant Goldberg (@grantgoldberg) June 23, 2016
When the leak occurred, the perception of Russell as a player went out the window and focus of conversations shifted to the off-court incident. Even after multiple apologies and deepest expression of regret, all talk of Russell’s play remained nonexistent.
Russell is already making it a point to silence his critics and put his name out there for the right reasons.
After losing his biggest critic in Byron Scott, the door is already open for Russell to confidently play the game he loves. Game in and game out, Scott would search for ways to “humble” his rookie point guard. With Scott out and Luke Walton in, it seems the days of coaches hampering Russell are done; at least, in front of the eyes and ears of the media.
Walton’s hiring is one of the best things that could’ve happened to Russell. Walton has already publicly stated qualities in Russell’s game which he likes and also discussed his fit with new Laker, Brandon Ingram. Things like that should give Lakers fans optimism about Russell’s development just from a confidence standpoint. Repeatedly, he was put down last year at the hint of credence in his game, so some positive reinforcement should only allow him to move forward without fear of being put down by his coach. Russell is already excited to play under his new boss.
Russell is about to be handed the keys to the offense, you know, an actual offense. His playmaking will be put on full display this go-around, being surrounded by more viable threats on offense, even before the Lakers start to spend in free agency. The addition of sharpshooting Brandon Ingram will prove helpful, especially because of Russell’s court vision and Ingram’s innate ability to find open spots on the court. Jordan Clarkson has improved his perimeter shooting every year since his junior year at Missouri, and the now third-year player seems set on taking the next step to becoming more reliable from behind the arc.
That aforementioned playmaking is arguably Russell’s best trait. Each game, Russell would drop the jaws of even his teammates with dazzling displays of passing. From behind the head passes to Julius Randle to cross-court bounce passes to moon man Larry Nance, Jr., Russell captivated audiences with his elite court vision. Now without Kobe Bryant and the iso-loving Scott, Russell will operate with the ball in his hands exponentially more.
That isn’t to say he’s incapable of impacting the game off the ball. Russell displayed decent spot up shooting in his rookie year and found open areas on the court, even when his teammates were not able to find him. The combination of Marcelo Huertas and Russell was surprisingly successful (relative to any other Laker combination), being that Huertas could find Russell when he got open in the half court.
Let’s talk about addition by subtraction AKA the likely event that Roy Hibbert does not return to the Lakers. I want to say that Roy Hibbert seems like a good teammate and all-around great guy, but last season he proved he does not have a place on this team. A team that mustered up 17 wins.
Hibbert spent more time bobbling Russell’s passes and falling down than grabbing rebounds and putting the ball in the basket. Finding a big who can play in the pick-and-roll and stay on his feet will be key in Russell’s development.
Tarik Black was far and away the Lakers’ best pick-and-roll big with both Russell and Huertas. If the front office makes the smart choice, Black will be the only center returning from last year. But the Lakers have a shot to reel in an elite pick-and-roll center in Hassan Whiteside. A Russell-Whiteside pick-and-roll tag team would set the world and both players’ stat sheets on fire. The thought of Russell to Whiteside lobs is drool inducing to basketball nerds all around.
The inclusion (and in Hibbert’s case, departure) of those players should eliminate all of the “3.3 assists” talk. Looking at you, Jay Williams. Russell is a big guard who can pull down rebounds and see the whole floor while running the break, a quality which will be especially prominent in Walton’s transition-heavy offense.
Russell’s size will also allow him to dominate smaller guards in the post. At 6’5″, Russell already has a nice height advantage, and the point guard continues to work in the weight room to fill out his big frame. Russell has already stated his intent to become “a bully”, and he showed some flashes of that in the back half of his rookie season. He’d back defenders down then hit them with a Dirk-esque post fadeaway.
Another aspect of Russell’s inside game is his ability to keep defenders on his hip, lull them to sleep, then make his move to the rim. As he got more time on the floor, Russell displayed this trait more often, with more success. Russell has shown a craftiness around the basket that is uncommon in younger players.
Due to the lack of shooters around him, Russell didn’t have many assists out of the posts, but Ingram and a revamped Jordan Clarkson should help inflate those numbers. Clarkson not only because of improved outside shooting, but also because of a better understanding of moving without the ball and cutting, which he showed as the year progressed.
Russell started to find his stroke from deep later on in the year, eventually setting the rookie record for three-point field goals made (8) in a game. He was known as a prolific scorer in his year at Ohio State, and Russell held true to the description on several different nights, no more so in his rookie season than his 39-point performance against the Brooklyn Nets.
On defense, Russell has much room to improve, but that isn’t to say a foundation isn’t there. Russell is well-equipped to defend with a 6’5″ frame, near 6’10” wingspan, and 8’6″ standing reach. As previously mentioned, Russell is continuing to work on putting on weight. As he fills out, he will be harder for opposing players to drive through when he climbs up the scale. His long reach makes is difficult for players to go around him, and allows him to play passing lanes.
The instincts are there, though. Russell is the best Laker guard at knowing when to switch, although he can get complacent in keeping track of his own man from time-to-time. He has a bit of a tendency to die on screens but has shown somewhat of an ability to fight through them when fully engaged. Other lapses include Russell picking Drake over Kendrick Lamar as the number one guy in rap, but we can try to overlook that one.
Russell has a positive reputation as an instinctual player, including the killer instinct. He has never shied away from the spotlight. No moment has ever been too big for him. Russell showed the ‘ice in his veins’ against the Nets, coming through in the clutch facing the Timberwolves, and put his body on the line in a self-led comeback against the Kings. And in a night that is remembered for Clarkson suggesting Russell bite his tongue about Byron Scott, Russell was the brightest player in the Rising Stars game, dropping 22 points and seven assists in just 16 minutes.
While the Lakers continue their search for their next star, they’ll continue to develop the one they have in the making. D’Angelo Russell and company are ushering in a new era of Lakers basketball. LA’s next star is prepared to start the post-Kobe chapter in the league’s winningest franchise. Don’t be mistaken, Brandon Ingram has star potential, but that potential will be unlocked by last year’s second overall pick. Russell is ready to turn heads and prove the doubters wrong as he continues on his path to becoming the next big thing for the Los Angeles Lakers.
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