The most interesting and most talked about Laker is, without a doubt, D’Angelo Russell. Whether you think he is the next superstar in the league or he is going to be a bust, nobody is more polarizing than the former Buckeye.
Throughout this year, the Lakers have played like a young team. By that I mean that they have been extremely up and down throughout the year and so have many of the players. Yet, through all of this lack of consistency, one thing has remained consistent: D’Angelo Russell.
His play has been consistently good game in and game out. He controls the offense and distributes the ball to make sure that points are being scored. His defense may not be all there at times, but he certainly does flash potential for solid defense in the future.
The Lakers are not as good without D’Angelo on the floor. Their net rating goes from -2.0 with him to -9.1 without him. This is nerd talk for saying that the team is worse on both ends of the floor when D’Angelo is on the bench. This might be alarming for those who constantly complain about his “effort” on defense and lackadaisical approach on offense. Russell may not appear to be super energized like Westbrook, but his mark is certainly being left on the court.
For D’Angelo, his first to second half splits are insane. He is so much better in the second half than in the first. The team’s first half offensive rating jumps from 103.6 to 109.9 in the second half when Russell is in. Not only does the offensive rating jump, but so does the Lakers’ net rating as it goes from -7.3 to 3.2. That’s a pretty noteworthy gap.
The team is much better in the second half when he is playing and it is easy to understand why. In the first half of many games, he gets off to slow starts, feeling out the opponent and trying to set up his teammates. His high IQ levels allow him to be patient and see how the defense reacts early on to then use what he has observed in the second half. Second half adjustments are certainly a thing and they clearly have an effect on Russell’s game.
Which brings us to Christmas Day. The Lakers beat the Clippers thanks to a third quarter push. This was a run that D’Angelo was a part of and his play helped the Lakers get a 15 point lead. It was a mixture of energy and aggressiveness that Russell brought to a Lakers team in need of those two things. His effect was on full display and it showed how much of a difference maker he is when he is playing at his best.
Now, let’s get to the film room before the Clippers’ injury plague hits me.
In the Lakers first defensive possession, Russell gets caught in a screen and fails to recover on Felton which leads to an easy alley-oop to DeAndre Jordan. Russell needs to get to Felton and other guards as fast as possible in order to avoid having the rim protector step up. It leaves the big open, and against the Clippers, the Lakers should try to avoid that as much as possible.
Here we see a flash of D’Angelo’s defensive potential as he keeps moving and closes out twice on the great shooter JJ Redick. This is the kind of persistence that can make him a good defender. Couple this with his already high IQ and you have a player that has an offensive game that is not brought down by his defense.
In this play, he shows his instincts. He notices Jordan is holding the ball and isn’t paying attention to his blind spot so D’Angelo gambles. It just so happens that Jordan got the pass off right before. This can be seen as a lazy gamble, but it is another example of the risks that D’Angelo takes throughout the game.
D’Angelo is a very quick learner and can reads plays as they happen. On this play, he notices that Paul Pierce is ball watching, so he goes behind him to catch an entry pass from Julius Randle. These are the plays that really show off his understanding of the game. There are many things that Russell can do because he is so skilled, but he also has the brains to know how to pull it off.
Russell is one of the best pick and roll guards to come out of college and in the NBA he has not disappointed. His know-how on where to go after the fact is still as impeccable as ever. On this play, he commits to going right and then changes direction in order to avoid help defense. This gave him the ability to get a great look that only relied on his touch at the rim.
Although Felton got the bucket, there was a good effort on D’Angelo’s part to recover and close out using his length. Getting hit by a screen from a player the size of DJ is no simple task. Russell does manage to recover nicely in order to at least somewhat bother Felton.
For every turnover that D’Angelo commits, one anti-D’Angelo Twitter accounts sprouts up out of nowhere. These mistakes that Russell makes are maddening as they do appear to be done in a nonchalant manner. Here, he simply loses control of the ball. Everything appeared fine and then this happened. When the team is trying to build momentum, these are the mistakes that kill it. Making a risky pass is excusable, but these are the ones that need to be cleaned up. Knowing he is only 20 years old, I’m sure he will.
Another pick and roll action and on this one you start to see how he affects the offense apart from scoring or assisting. Wes Johnson does a good job of denying Russell a shot, but Russell adjusts and whips a pass to Deng. This pass is one few guards can actually make and it gets the ball moving which then sets up Ingram for a great look at a three. This is partly the effect Luke has had on the team, but it is also showing how Russell is thinking three steps ahead of everyone else.
Here, Russell shows off his pick and roll prowess. His vision and playmaking make a lot of things possible on offense. Mozgov has some pretty good skills as a roll man. With Russell getting so much attention on offense, he can manipulate the defense to step up. This is next level pick and roll play, and it is no doubt part of what makes him special.
Russell played in a very passive manner in the first half and that meant he was looking to be a facilitator and run the offense first. Here, he forced a pass to Moz which he was luckily able to recover. Then Russell gets another pick and turns the corner going to the rim. He feels a bit of contact and then he throws his hands up in order to get the foul call he was looking for. This wasn’t exactly the same fire that Russell had in the second half.
On this transition play, D’Angelo almost had another turnover. He tried to get a little too fancy and that led to another possible mistake. He was able to regain control and give a nice pass to a trailing Randle.
Russell rarely stays put. He moves without the ball as much as possible in order to try to get a good look on offense. Here, he moves around multiple players, weaving his way as if he was a veteran shooter. After this, he squared up and shot a good look from three. Looking for his shot instead of helping others get theirs really does allow for the best in Russell to come out as a scorer.
D’Angelo showed excellent patience on this play as he read and manipulated the defense on the fly to then survey and find Mozgov quickly. A wise alien from Star Wars once said these famous words: “Patience young D’Angelo.” It is important to not make hasty decisions to just get rid of the ball since it takes time for players to open up.
I don’t even know how D’Angelo saw Deng or how Deng knew to move. Russell perfectly manipulated the defense to get them to keep their eyes on him and let Deng leak out. If I still haven’t convinced you that D’Angelo is special, this play shows why.
Russell did a good job of poking and probing the Clippers defense early on and then they became predictable. Russell did a good job of kicking it out to Young, but D’Angelo knew the defense would close out and focus on him. He then snuck out for a good look.
Russell did a good job of staying with Mo. It seems as if when he is scoring on offense, his defensive motor appears to improve. This is another flash of what may come from D’Angelo on defense if he can continue to work on this area of his game.
Not bad for a “slow footed” guard. He showed a real quick burst and it showed off how he can turn on the jets if he chooses to. This shows off how athletic Russell can be.