D’Angelo Russell is averaging around 30 minutes a game in the month of January, an increase from 26 minutes a game last month. The Lakers are slowly trying to boost Russell’s minutes after his knee injury in December. The problem, though, is not Russell’s overall playing time, but it is more specifically the allocation of his minutes, especially in the fourth quarter.
Russell is only averaging 5.9 minutes in the fourth quarter, which is second to last as a starter behind Timofey Mozgov at 4.7 minutes. Russell is essentially playing behind Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson down the stretch. Williams and Clarkson play around 8.9 minutes in the fourth.
It is understandable to see Luke Walton’s reliance on Williams as the go-to guy down the stretch; Williams leads the team in fourth quarter scoring at seven points. But this season has always been about developing the youth, and a part of that has to be the willingness to play them more minutes during crunch time.
Walton deserves praise for playing Brandon Ingram a lot in the fourth quarter. His reasoning here is endearing and logical. But they should also be applicable to the likes of Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell as well.
If one looks at Russell’s minutes per quarter, they could see that his play is negatively affected by the extended amount of rest he has before re-entering the game again. In the first quarter, Russell plays 8.4 minutes and scores 4.3 points. Furthermore, in the second quarter, he plays 5.5 minutes and scores 2.8 points. This trend continues in the second half. In the third quarter, Russell plays 8.1 minutes and scores 4.4 points. Subsequently, in the final quarter, he only plays 5.9 minutes and scores 3.5 points. Like his scoring, Russell’s assist numbers are also higher in the first (1.8) and the third (1.2) than the second (.8) and fourth (.9).
One way that Walton can play his starting point guard more down the stretch is to allocate Russell’s minutes evenly. Russell could play seven minutes each quarter, starting the first seven minutes of the first and third quarter, while playing the final seven minutes of the second and fourth quarter. Russell is a young player who struggles with consistency, it may help for him to play the same amount of minutes each quarter.
Another way is for Walton to take Russell out earlier in the third quarter and play him more in the final quarter. Instead of entering the game at the 5th-minute mark in the fourth, Russell could check in around the 7th-minute mark. That way, he would not have to struggle with finding his rhythm at the end of the game.
The Lakers are a young team, and with it comes excitement and frustration. Luke Walton carries that same sentiment. He is still trying to figure out what works best and what does not. He wants to win, and sometimes he inadvertently relies on veteran players who have winning experiences. Hopefully, Walton can adjust and realize how to put Russell in a better position to succeed in the fourth quarter moving forward.