I was scrolling through my Twitter timeline on Wednesday, several hours before the Los Angeles Lakers’ 112-111 season-opening loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, when my eyes were greeted by this doozy of a tweet.
Byron on D’Angelo Russell starting tonight: “I just think he’s ready. He wants that spotlight.” Russell will be more of a SG, Clarkson at PG
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 28, 2015
….Come again? D’Angelo Russell, the point guard Los Angeles drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in this past year’s NBA Draft was going to be logging his first minutes in the Association as a shooting guard? The 19-year-old who had been celebrated by a certain Laker in training camp and preseason for having “astronomical vision,” was going to be denied the chance to do what he does best, which is facilitating the offense? Tisk-tisk Byron Scott, this is where I draw the line.
It made me mad when you denounced the importance of the three-point shot at the beginning of last season, refusing to conform to the small-ball and analytical movements that have taken the league by storm. I was puzzled as to why you let a then 36-year-old Kobe Bryant, who was coming off two major injuries to his lower extremities, play 35+ minutes a game during your first season with us. I hated how you played Ryan Kelly at small forward last season, and don’t even get me started on the whole Robert Upshaw, Robert Sacre scenario. I might just blow a gasket.
During summer league and preseason, we saw flashes of Russell’s brilliant orchestration skills, so I fully anticipated the beast being unleashed against Minnesota on Wednesday night. Not only was Russell deprived of the ball, but he was basically a non-factor. 4 points, three rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes of action, including a fourth quarter in which the former Ohio State Buckeye was stationed on the bench. Meanwhile, Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio exploded for a career-high 28 points and 14 assists, including a flurry of jumpers.
Instead of Russell, Scott elected to bestow point guard duties among Jordan Clarkson, and although Clarkson broke through and proved to be a capable NBA player last season amidst a slew of Laker injuries, he’s better off being slotted at the shooting guard position.
Clarkson can be deemed a combo guard, as he’s a 6’4 scorer that is an adept ball-handler who is very proficient in the pick-and-roll and can do a nice job distributing the rock. But Clarkson would tell you himself, he prefers to use his solid frame and slithery ways to score the ball. He’s turned into a formidable midrange jumper shooter, specifically when he comes off the high pick and begins to probe into the painted area.
So knowing Byron Scott and his penchant for saying and or doing questionable things, I surmised that this trend may continue for God knows how long. Luckily, I was blessed with some good news today when I once again skimmed the contents of my timeline.
Byron Scott says he plans to have D’Angelo Russell handle the ball more moving forward.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 29, 2015
Kobe Bryant on D’Angelo Russell handling the ball more: “That’s what we brought him here to do. He’s phenomenal at it.”
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 29, 2015
Thank goodness gracious that was only a one-game occurrence. Russell will now be afforded the opportunity to do what he was drafted to do: run the show for the Lakers. I’m a firm believer in the cliche conviction that you learn from experience, and with the wealth of great point guards in the Western Conference, what better way for the young Russell to learn than going head-to-head against the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and *gulp* Stephen Curry.
I understand Byron’s thinking. He wants to get Russell acclimated to playing off the ball, especially since he’s on a team with so many playmakers and ball-dominant guys such as Kobe Bryant, Clarkson, Lou Williams, Nick Young and Julius Randle, who has been given the green-light to push the pace after corralling a rebound. But Russell’s distribution skills are all for naught if he’s not given the chance to sling the rock around to his teammates. Others can still get theirs, even if it is by way of Russell.
Roy Hibbert actually led the Lakers in assists against the Timberwolves with four, and, nothing against Roy, I’d prefer if that were to not happen again. Fans would rather see Russell governing over that particular statistical category on a game-to-game basis, and even if he may not finish with a team-high in helpers every night, you’d at least like to see him in the top-two.
What’s even more discouraging is that Russell’s counterparts, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor and Emmanuel Mudiay were all given an opportunity on opening-night to showcase their talents, with the latter two actually manning a significant amount of the offensive load for their respective teams.
On a team with Kobe Bryant, I’m not expecting all ball-handling duties to be conceded to Russell. I’m just asking that he be given a chance to run the offense, and show what made him such a revered talent coming out of Ohio State. Russell being forced to play shooting guard after being the second overall pick in the draft as a point guard is like getting a Playstation 4 as a graduation gift, but your dad tells you, “Hey son. You can only watch me play it.” Cruel and unusual punishment right there.
Byron Scott and the Lakers need to let D’Angelo Russell breathe and play his game. Hiccups are inevitable, but those blunders will help mold him into a much better and mature player in the long-run. Russell wasn’t drafted to stand in the corner, and staving off his development by shooing him away from the ball to educate him on how to play off of it, is silly. He was such a high selection for a reason. If he needs the ball in his hands you give it to him and let everything else fall into place, no matter how ugly it may get at times.
Russell was brought to Los Angeles to make life easier for his teammates, and now Scott needs to make Russell’s life easier by enabling him to have fun and play the point guard position like he knows how; by finding his teammates with slick passes and discovering the crevices in the opposition’s defense that can help get Los Angeles’ offense humming. As the Lakers begin to usher in a new era of basketball, a steady digest of Kobe iso’s just aren’t as amusing as they once were. It stagnates of the offense and often ends in a low efficiency shot for Bryant.
Russell’s playmaking can eliminate the frequency in which these type of possessions occur, which will for a much smoother offense and hopefully an uptick in Bryant’s field goal percentages.
D’Angelo Russell’s impact on this Los Angeles Lakers team can be profound. He may not change the landscape right away to the extent that a superstar would, but he can do some magnificent things for this squad. His talents need to be maximized, and that can only be done with the ball in his hands. So touche for smartening up coach Scott. Let’s see what D’Angelo does when he’s calling the shots.