There’s a faction of Lakers’ Nation that is really disappointed in D’Angelo Russell and some have even started to use the term “bust” to describe him. We can’t forget that not many 19 year olds waltz into the NBA and start contributing at a high level. This year is (supposed to be) all about development so we’re going to focus on that. Fourteen games into his Rookie year D’Angelo is in no way a complete player but he has shown flashes in some key offensive areas that will, hopefully, become more frequent.
This was supposed to be Russell’s “elite skill” that set him apart from most other players the Lakers could have drafted this summer. It doesn’t seem like we’ve seen this on display though, Russell is only averaging 2.9 assists per game which is less than Kobe’s average right now. However, that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Russell is leading the team in both secondary assists (0.7) and potential assists (6.5).
A secondary assist is basically a hockey assist, meaning Russ passes to Clarkson who passes to Randle who scores. Clarkson gets the assist and D’Angelo would get a secondary assist.
A potential assist is a pass that goes to a player that shoots but misses. If the shot would have gone in then the player would have recorded an assist.
D’Angelo seems to have the right idea on a lot of his passes like this one in Minnesota. Kobe takes the ball and pulls up for a contested three early in the shot clock, it rims out, and instead of the T-Wolves getting it for another fast break Russell gets the board. Russ spins around Dieng and draws Wiggins off of Kobe who gets open in the corner. Russell’s pass is just off the mark but Kobe wasn’t fully stopped before he threw it. Mamba misses the shot but what a great look from D’Angelo.
And again against Portland… In a different look he drives baseline, keeps his head up, and finds Kobe cutting to the basket. Mamba missed the shot but got fouled.
Then in Dallas off an inbounds pass, Russell barely gets into the paint and finds Clarkson and hits him over the shoulder of Parsons. This is a tough pass that is also a good indicator of the chemistry between Russ and Clarkson that desperately need a couple name. Ruskson? D’Angelordan? Jord’Angelo?!
This is another example of D’Clarksgelo at work, and one of the best passes we’ve looked at. Hibbert gets the rebound, throws the outlet pass to Russell, who drives to the left elbow. Russell, Randle, and Hibbert draw four defenders into the paint, the fifth (Mudiay) is attatched to Kobe in the corner. :eaving Clarkson as open as they come for a three; Russell finds him with a great one-handed pass.
Most of those passes are just a result of a read-and-react offense that the Warriors have mastered but there are some instances when plays and actions need to be called out. Lakers’ TV play-by-play guy, Bill McDonald, calls this Quarterbacking. These plays are going to be kind of subtle because we haven’t seen a lot of this yet, but you can see the wheels turning in Russell’s head.
On this play in Orlando Russell gets the ball on the left wing and calls a “clear out” for Nick Young; then gets a pick from Hibbert and passes to Clarkson who seemed to be open for a three. Evan Fournier closes out on Clarkson so he decides to take it to the basket and finds Hibbert for an easy wrap around pass and dunk. This probably doesn’t count as a “secondary assist” for Russ, because it’s just on the verge of disqualifying/qualifying (the criteria is that the assister has the ball for less than 4 seconds and 2 dribbles), but it should probably count though. Either way it’s a good set up by Russell.
A little more obvious example came against Portland where Russell called for a pick and gets a double from Hibbert and Randle. Russell gets to the elbows again and throws a pass to the rolling-Hibbert.
His numbers aren’t amazing, 40% from the field, 33% from three point territory and 73% from the free throw line, but not Old-Kobe awful. They’re actually in line with some other All-Star level talents through the first 14 games of their rookie seasons:
*all via Basketball-Reference.com
The best most consistent shot Russell is making so far is the left elbow. He’s 50% from the field on long twos (16 feet to just inside the three point line). Russell is also shooting 62% at the rim but has only attempted 16 shots there, we’ll look at one later.
These shots are really simple also, in this first one he just does a slight stutter step against Devin Harris who stumbles just a little so Russ can get up the shot.
Then in Miami he comes off a combo-Hibbert-hand off/screen and steps up to take the shot. That one is more of a free throw than an elbow but it’s the same sort of area.
Russell’s elbow shots are a great shot to extend his range to three point territory, and also for his confidence. Several of those passes we looked at early were due to the defense collapsing on Russ because they have to respect it.
I say “extend his range” sort of tonge in cheek because Russell is going to be a good shooter. He was a 41% three point shooter in college and as mentioned is shooting 33% so far in the NBA. The NBA three point line is basically 2-3ish feet farther out than in NCAA, so the learning curve isn’t surprising. It shouldn’t take much longer for him to get used it.
Here’s one from Dallas. Russell has the ball on the right wing with Parsons trying to decide whether he should stay back or stick a hand in his face. Russ gets a nice pseudo-screen from Hibbert that convinces Parsons to back off and 3’Angelo gets enough space to nail a three.
Then in Orlando, Randle gets the inbounds pass, fakes a drive into the lane and dishes to an open 3’Angelo who spots up and makes it. This one is nearly two feet off the line so we can see that the distance is there, so maybe he just needs more confidence and reps.
Moving Without the Ball
This is the area Russell has seemed to struggle with the most. The majority of the time when either Kobe or Lou Williams has the ball D’Angelo looks so lost, in his defense every other Laker does as well. He mostly just stands in one of the corners or any other semi open space hoping to get a pass. Most of the time it doesn’t come. Unless he’s as wide open as he was in Sacramento.
Willie Cauley-Stein follows Randle as he saunters up towards the top of the key leaving no one in the paint. Russell gets a screen from Hibbert and dives into the lane. Kobe passes up a tempting contested three and hits Russell for an easy layup.
Also on the first possession in Orlando Clarkson takes a shot at the end of the shot clock, Oladipo tries to get the rebound but it ricochets off his hand and Clarkson chucks a touch pass to Russell for a three. If you watch it again, everyone else is running the other way to get back on defense (which is surprising) but Russell steps up to receive the pass.
Overall, these are some encouraging plays but they’re still a small sample of the restricted amount of time and touches Russell has been given. More reps should bring more confidence and then these flashes can start to shed some light on the player he can become.