Our basketball writers reevaluate the short career of D’Angelo Russell
At times, it has felt like D’Angelo Russell’s second pick in the draft bio was more a curse than a blessing as the expectations for him to get out the gate fast were enormous. He could never live up to the hype. Lately, he has made all the doubters eat their words. Is he no longer at the kids table?
C.J. Hampshire: The Lakers passed on a big (Jahlil Okafor) and they never do that. But don’t be a prisoner of the moment. He just turned 20 years old which means he can’t drink legally in this state, that’s how young he is. But he has demonstrated what a force he can be when he has the ball in his hands and he is looking to score and isn’t bothered with the boring task of being a playmaker. But, he is immature. He will grow up but how fast is that process going to take? Soon enough to appease Laker fans?
Valerie Morales: What’s that Terrell Owens line, I love me some me. That’s D’Angelo. But thinking you can do everything on the court is always going to be where the rubber meets the road. You will be frustrated. You will have bad nights. You will turn the ball over incessantly. Russell knows he can score on just about anyone but when his shot wasn’t falling against the Hawks because he was bothered by Teague and Schroder, then what? The mental game is still a work in progress.
Brendan Gillespie: He’s still a kid. And the way I know he still is a kid is that he thinks the game is on one end of the floor. The next time he defends will be the first time. But he has improved with his effort on offense where he actually looks interested and engaged on every play.
Julian Billick: I think a valid criticism was he didn’t go out and take the game. You look at the point guards in the West. They are all different but what they have in common is their aggression to go and get theirs, or go out and make sure the rest of the guys are in the best possible spots. He has grown in his approach. He’s a lot more serious out there.
So, the Lakers did the right thing taking him and not drafting Jahlil Okafor or Kristaps Porzingis.
Valerie: Yes, even though Porzingis would have been interesting. But the Lakers have so much emotional capital invested in Julius Randle. The Lakers were desperate for point guard help.
Brendan: They went for need. They need someone to fill in the Kobe vacuum, to take up his star mantle in a city that elevates stars. Purely on the basis of team building, Randle meant they didn’t need Porzingis. Either one would have helped them. They have so many holes in their roster. They are truly 3-5 years away from building a complete contending roster.
C.J.: The Lakers don’t do good and quiet. They do arrogant and dynamic. Russell fit and now he is showing how good he really is. The Lakers thought he was this point guard extraordinaire, but he’s going to light the league up with his scoring.
Julian: There was no way they were going to select a Euro, not with Jim Buss in hot water. Russell was a good pick. People overreacted to him in the early part of the season. Now they are seeing what he can do.
What does he need to work on this summer?
Brendan: Defense. He is horrible at every facet of it. He doesn’t block out. He is just learning how to get around screens. He’s not very physical. His footwork is miserable.
C.J.: Effort. The scouts all said he didn’t give effort at OSU, he could be lazy. We see that in spades. It’s ridiculous at times, like he’s playing for D’Antoni. He needs to grow up. L.A. doesn’t wait around.
Valerie: He needs to get in the weight room. He’s not strong enough yet. He wasn’t in great shape when he came into camp. He can spend some time on footwork. He’s a big guard who has the talent to post up smaller guards but he has to be more physical and show some toughness.
Julian: Shooting. Defense. Passing. All of it. The thing is, he had an excuse this year. He could hide behind the Kobe curtain. But next year no Kobe means everything is going to fall on his shoulders. He will get the credit and he will get the blame. A lot of it. How is he going to handle that? He’s never been in that position before. What he does this summer will tell us what his work ethic is like, how bad he wants to be great. I found it interesting in one of his pressers that Kobe said Clarkson wants to be great but he didn’t say Russell wants to be great. He said Russell needs to stop listening to what people say about him.
Did he save Byron’s job?
Valerie: Unfortunately. This new offense should have been implemented from day one and if Byron is as good a coach as he thinks he is, he could have found wrinkles in it for Kobe to thrive. One more year of Byron is a tough pill to swallow. No one moves without the ball, the passing game stinks, transition defense is awful, the ball sticks, too much dribbling, the defense is d.o.a., energy comes and goes. But I will give Bryon credit in this. He made the right decision in not playing Russell right away. Russell has a bit of entitlement going on in that brain of his. He needed to be brought back down to reality.
Julian: Saved it for a year? Probably. All management wants to see is that the young guys have improved. Randle has improved and so has Russell. That alone should give him one more crack at it.
C.J.: I want one more year of Bryon screwing up this team like I want one more year listening to Donald Trump. That Byron scowl on the sidelines is so played out. I refuse to give him credit for doing his job. His willingness to change up the offense has shown his ability to be flexible but only when forced and threatened with getting fired. I’m not a fan.
Brendan: Yes, but only by default. Who do you go to? Thibodeau? I think Thibs is the type of coach Russell needs. He’s not going to thrive with a players coach, he needs a hard ass because he drifts sometimes. He needs a coach who is going to push him and make him accountable. But other than Thibs, what are your options? Brian Shaw? Vinny del Negro?
Has Russell and the other young guys done enough to entice free agents?
Valerie: No. Their games are incomplete. Julius needs a jumpshot, will he get one? Clarkson is a terrible defender; he makes mistakes that come from not paying attention to detail. Russell needs another full year of growth. None of these kids have played in a game that really matters. You don’t know how they respond to pressure. Do they attack it or do they quit? Besides, as long as a 35% shooting Nick Young is on the team, elite players are going to stay away.
Brendan: No. The Lakers have won 12 games. If they had 30 wins, maybe. But they have won 12 games. They are a pitiful disaster who think Ben Simmons is going to help when he’ll need a couple of years of on the job training. Let me throw this out there too. If I’m a free agent, I want stability. Knowing that Jeanie Buss is about to go postal on everyone in the front office would make me nervous. The Lakers are a fragile organization.
C.J.: What free agents are you talking about? Kevin Durant? No. Chandler Parsons? No. Harrison Barnes? No. Hassan Whiteside? No. DeMar DeRozan? No. But Kent Bazemore might want to come back. And if they do show Byron the door and hire Thibodeau that might entice Noah. But more than likely, the team next year is going to look like the team this year. Young and taking it on the chin.
Julian: Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, O.J. Mayo, Greivis Vasquez, Dion Waiters…get my point. C and B level talent but no one who is an All-Star. They have to crawl before they walk.
photo via llananba