D’Angelo Russell scored a career high 40 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, and it was one of the most fun games of the season. It isn’t simply the fact that Russell had a great game, but also that the whole team played a super competitive game against the reigning, defending NBA Champions. The whole young core had a great game. Nwaba killed it and it proved to really be the special game that the team needed after playing like trash for most of the last 4 games before the Cars game.
Ingram had a great game for a rookie’s standard, especially going up against a player like LeBron James. Ingram went 8/15 from the floor, also pulling down 6 rebounds. When being matched up with LeBron, it is tough to get to the rim. Instead, Ingram used some nice looking post moves to score over players. On defense, he was clearly overmatched for most of the game. He still had some pretty promising moments on that end where he held his own.
Nwaba has really become somewhat of a cult figure for the Lakers because of his defense and effort on the defensive end. It is rare to see a player really going hard and playing for his career. His play was really impressive and he continued to flash a potential role as a key bench piece. His long wingspan allowed him to pick up a block against the red-hot Kyrie Irving. Not only that, he had a ridiculous poster on Richard Jefferson that really showed off his bounce and what he can do with his athleticism. If the Lakers don’t offer him another contract, many people (including me) will not be happy.
Zubac continues to be so much more productive than anyone ever expected. He scored 10 points and added 6 rebounds to his total. His finishing and roll ability has been so good for the Lakers and he should be the starter heading into next year. He finishes very well and he is the only shot blocking threat the Lakers have. For a team needing a center, Zubac has been exactly what the doctor ordered. He may still end up being a really good backup, but his ceiling appears to be really high for a 2nd round player.
Now to the star of the show: D’Angelo Russell. He was terrific against the Cavs and had one of his best offensive games in his very short career. His stats on offense were off the charts. He had a 79% True Shooting, 158 ORtg, and 79% eFG. This is incredible for a player that had as many attempts as he had. This is the player D’Angelo Russell can be when his jumpshot is falling and he is playing with some confidence. It was surprising to see this kind of performance coming after his poor showing against the Rockets and the Nuggets when he was benched.
Luke wanted to try different things by starting Jordan Clarkson instead of Russell. The odd part was that Russell was on fire since the All-Star break:
When D'Angelo Russell plays 31+ min. (12 games – 32.5 MPG):
— Michael Taylor (@LFRMBT) February 26, 2017
Russell handled the benching poorly, but it was a totally justifiable reaction after being so awesome. It is hard to turn around in such a short span and then go ball out. Especially with a player that is confidence driven like Russell. It always felt like it would take him a few games to respond. That’s exactly what happened.
The most recent debate is whether D’Angelo Russell should be a shooting guard or point guard. The answer is quite simple. He is neither. He’s a lead guard, who should have the ball 40%-65% of the time and then be running off ball actions the rest of the time. Setting screens, cutting, and running off screens to get catch and shoot attempts. He should still have the ball in his hands because that is when he is at his best. Russell is an insane pick and roll guard with absurd vision and the ability to make any pass on the court.
The NBA now is moving more and more to position-less basketball so it doesn’t really matter at what position he is slotted at. Long story short: Get D’Angelo the ball and run off-ball actions for him. It takes the best of what he can do and it maximizes it.
Now let’s get to this film room before D’Angelo haters start calling him a cupcake.
This is the lead guard stuff Russell can do. Even though he starts at shooting guard, he runs a pick and roll. D’Angelo has been much better at getting the rim and attacking. Here, he attacks and draws 2 defenders. All that is left to do is slot in a nice pass to Zubac. These are the benefits of having a center with soft hands and can finish at the rim.
Randle’s signature drag screen made an appearance in this game and it was a welcome return. Russell did a good job of getting loose of defenders and making sure he takes some good looks. The Cavs didn’t respect the shot early on and it led to Russell getting high percentage looks. More shots like this will certainly help Russell get going early. These kinds of action to get the creation burden off of him helps him tremendously.
With a more aggressive Russell, some more finishing craftiness follows. Since Russell isn’t a great athlete, his floater and other 1st level finishes need to be falling. His floater is important for him to have success. Putting a defender in jail may free up a floater attempt every now and then. D’Angelo did a good job of faking out Kevin Love with a small jab to get him off balanced. Russell then shot a still developing floater.
When Russell creates a 2/3 step advantage on the defender, that pull-up mid-range shot will be available since the defender will be off-balanced and still chasing Russell. Shumpert falls behind on the play after the Zubac screen and Russell takes advantage by pulling up. That pull-up shot is crucial for Russell.
Randle can set some Draymond type screens. Here, he holds LeBron back to let Clarkson get the ball to Russell who had the mismatch. Since Thompson was so far away, Russell had pretty much a wide open attempt and he hit it. Similar to how he did all game long.
Russell has a very creative, tight handle. Here he shows it off by penetrating (yeah it’s a constant theme) and changing direction a few times, and going into Love to draw the foul. Plays like these really show Russell isn’t just a jumpshot shooter and that he can get the paint if he really puts his mind to it.
The Cavs defense had a couple moments where they fell asleep and it led to a good look for a Lakers. Here, Russell misses the floater and then runs straight out to the 3 point line. Randle does a great job of finding Russell and Russell gets another great look.
What a great play by Russell to flash out to the 3 point line. He always runs across the court so the Cavs defender was expecting him to run out to the 3 point line. He did and he got a great shot. Russell really impressed by getting to good spots on the court.
Kyrie isn’t the best pick and roll defender, and it shows here. Russell is able to get the advantage again and hits the pull-up shot, yet again. This pull-up also goes into the mind of defenders next time they defend a pick and roll. You don’t want to be in jail when Russell has the ball.
Good reaction by D’Angelo to get the steal, leading to an easy layup.
Look at his handle, it is truly beautiful. D’Angelo showed off the wiggle he has with that handle. A really beautiful play. This is D’Angelo Russell does when he has confidence.
I don’t know how Russell got this ball to Randle. I don’t think I can breakdown impossible plays.
This was a great no look pass to Clarkson, and Russell got a good look at a 3 point shot. The Cavs were lazy again closing out and Russell made them pay.
D’Angelo’s vision is outstanding. He tells Ingram to go to the rim and he drops a beautiful pass right in Brandon’s hands. This is an incredibly difficult pass that is hard to make. Few players can truly make it.
Russell takes Irving off the dribble without needing a screen. Kyrie was getting ready to get hit by a screen and it caused him to lose his balance. Russell is never stopped on his way to the rim and he gets a nice layup. His aggressiveness played a huge role in his great game.
D’Angelo was hitting shots by stopping on a dime again. This shot is going to be there for him any time that he wants it. All he needs to do is hit the shot.
Oh man, Russell was feeling it.
Shades of the game against Sacramento last year, Russell put Kyrie in jail and it led to him getting hit on the elbow shot. The shot went in and it was an AND-1. Remind you of anything?