On the grounds that Magic Johnson is the new President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers, there is likely one player in particular he will be keeping a sharp eye on in the next collection of weeks: D’Angelo Russell. This is so given that Magic used to be a PG himself back in the day, and is arguably the best of all-time at said position. His 11.2 assists per game average and 5 NBA titles say enough.
The purple-and-gold are not having the season many wished for, and it is germane to say that part of the blame needs to be resting on Russell’s shoulders. After all, this is the guy who at one interval last year confidently proclaimed “you ain’t seen nothing yet” when he set a career high in the points category. Nevertheless, he has likewise been getting a lot of notice for the “ice in the veins” display he unveils now and again.
While it not fair to place all of this on the 21-year-old, part of it again is fair. Coming into the campaign, he seemed poised to be a leader, if not the leader, for the squad. Alas, this has not been all too true. He has been inconsistent throughout the vast majority of the season, and while the youth factor is logical, that card cannot always be used. Yes, the injury he sustained earlier in the year also is attributable to this to some degree. However, more was expected out of D’Angelo. The progression is just not good enough. Plain and simple. He needs to be backing up the talk, too, if he has the courage to put forward the previously echoed words.
He is only averaging around a single point and assist above his rookie numbers, and while that does technically exemplify a dollop of improvement, it is diminutive. 4.7 assists per game for a point guard most especially is not going to cut it. It is plausible to argue that Russell is not the most traditional point guard, yet there is a certain standard when it comes to being the quarterback on a team. Russell tends to still get trigger happy on occasion from 3-point range, and even when he chooses to pass the rock, he can get too fancy in lieu of making the simpler, easier decision.
His turnovers per game tally is reflective of that aforementioned argument. As a matter of fact, the tally is actually slightly worse than it was last year. Granted turnover rates tend to be higher for those with the ball in their hands a lot (with Russell being no exception to that), making similar goofs over and over get to be puzzling after a while. It is kind of disgusting.
It is understandable that Russell has to play against good point guards quite a bit whether it is Westbrook, CP3, Lillard, Curry, Thomas or whoever. If he keeps getting outplayed, though, it will become all the more challenging to take him seriously. It will become easier to conjure up the thought “so, how did he get selected #2 in the draft a couple years back?” Some may think this is being too harsh, whilst it is simply a matter of being frank and upfront. The league is loaded with great point guards, and there needs to be stronger production from the Lakers’ second year asset.
One area to key in on, too, is that number 1 is averaging below 30 minutes as was the case last year as well. It is understandable that Luke Walton wants there to be a certain increment of balance. Notwithstanding the likelihood of that presumption, maybe this is partially why D’Angelo has not reached the upper tier of his potential yet? It is a potentially accurate theory, but, nonetheless, the point guard needs to be making better use of his minutes. It is perhaps why Walton has kept him away from exceeding the 30 minute plateau.
His shooting percentage is one spot that is disappointing to behold. He is actually managing to shoot below 40% overall, which is flat out unacceptable for an individual who desires to be the guy in Hollywood. For a guy like small forward Brandon Ingram, some slack should be given because of the fact that he is a rookie still figuring out how to adjust to the elevated tempo of the NBA. With regard to D’Angelo, however, the continuous subpar marks are not too wonderful to peruse day in and day out.
While bad shooting nights can happen to anyone without a doubt, they are happening too often. What is sad, too, is that whenever Russell is not necessarily performing well in this neck of the woods, he tends to get lazy/sloppy on the defensive end of the floor. He seems to let it get to his head way too much. This is concerning since this is a level where mental weakness is just not permissible. At the bare minimum, this is a department where discernible effort always needs to exist, even if, say, he’s 1 for 10 from the floor on a given evening. Defensive intensity is absolutely imperative, no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.
With all of this out there, it is accordingly critical that D’Angelo makes some sort of lasting impression from now until the remainder of the season. He needs to prove that he belongs and is worthy of being selected second in the draft in 2015. He does have a lot of useful tools in his arsenal, yet it boils down to how he decides to utilize them. Time will tell, and hopefully he answers the call. Otherwise, it is reasonable to develop the presupposition that his future may not be nearly as secure as he would prefer.