Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell is not a speedster nor pogo-stick and that’s fine. Russell is a rangy 6’5 point guard that has both the size and strength to be effective in the avenue of posting-up, but it’s something he has to learn to embrace with open arms.
During Russell’s rookie season, his average shot distance was 15.3 feet away from the basket according to Basketball Reference. This year we’ve seen Russell relegate himself further away from the basket, with the average distance on his attempts coming 16.8 feet from the hoop.
Russell favors three-pointers off of screens and or of the catch and shoot variety, but he also likes the mid-range jumper after some pick-and-roll action as well as one-handed floating shots in the lane. In addition to all of this he has flashed the ability to post-up, but it hasn’t become a staple of his game the way I think it should be.
With the shot clock dwindling down the Lakers threw the ball into Russell, cleared out and watched him loft a beauty of a turn-around jumper over Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic, who did a respectable job of contesting. Possessions like these from Russell have been episodic, and I’m really intrigued as to what an entire series may look like.
Posting-up doesn’t seem like a foreign concept to him, and it looked as if he had a high-level of comfortability in that scene. Some players would stiffen up, or whip the ball to a teammate like it was a hot potato that had just bathed in an inferno and allowed the team to suffer a shot-clock violation. Russell showed patience, poise and precision. Impressive stuff.
Russell frequenting post-ups would place him in closer proximity of the basket, which would in-turn make him more susceptible to being fouled. Russell hasn’t shown a great proclivity of getting to the charity stripe, and that is absolutely necessary for all great scorers. The fact that every top-five scorer this season attempts at least eight free-throws a night is supplementary evidence.
Russell is one of 72 players that has logged more than 1,400 minutes this season but has attempted 150 free-throws or less. Let’s rattle some names off the list for comparison: Ryan Anderson, Otto Porter, Robin Lopez, Kyle Korver, Robert Covington, Iman Shumpert, and P.J. Tucker.
What do all of those players have in common? They aren’t primary ball-handlers or main offensive cogs. They’re all players with a role tailored specifically for them, whether it be that of a defensive specialist (Tucker, Shumpert) or a sharp-shooter that is bestowed with the honor of stretching out defenses (Korver, Porter).
Those aforementioned players don’t juggle nearly the same offensive tasks as Russell, yet he’s still enrolled in their underwhelming free-throw class. Laker fans hope that graduation is imminent.
Russell is second in Usage Percentage (27%) out of all 72 players, trailing only Memphis’ Zach Randolph who is at 29%. His 144 free-throw attempts would slot him as No. 8 on this list, but this isn’t an index you’d like to see your starting point guard on, especially when his contemporaries are getting to the line at a much higher rate.
Russell’s free-throw rate is nearly identical to what it was his rookie season (19.9 last year, 20.1 this year), and he’s had 34 games with three free-throws attempted or less.
13 of those contests included zero attempts.
Meanwhile Isaiah Thomas, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry have all attempted 300+ free-throws this season, with the two formers having attempted at least 500. To be an elite point guard in today’s NBA you must be able to score the ball. Russell needs to make the free-throw line one of his main on-court domiciles and dotting his game with a few more post-ups may afford him the opportunity to do so.
Although his stints in the post are fragmented, Russell has seen a fair amount of success in those scenarios.
According to NBA.com/stats, Russell ranks in the 42 percentile in terms of post-ups, trailing only two point guards: Marcus Smart (86 percentile) and Kyrie Irving (85 percentile). Russell has also generated nearly one point per possession for the Lakers via the post, ahead of some pretty notable names.
Russell’s post frequency is only 7% according to NBA.com/stats, and with the success he’s had in his small sample sizes he should be encouraged to uptick that number to double digits.
Smaller guards will find it hard to contend with Russell’s size, as made evident by D.J. Augustin in the Lakers game against the Orlando Magic earlier this season.
Russell recognizes that Orlando is trying to reconfigure their defense in semi-transition, and attacks Augustin immediately. Not having that blinding burst of speed, Russell backs Augustin down, creates space by fending him off with his arm and twirls baseline for the jumper. Augustin is too small to cloud Russell’s vision on the J, so it becomes a relatively easy shot for Russell.
Again against the Sacramento Kings, Russell exploited the smaller Ty Lawson by playing out of the post.
In the first possession we see Russell elect to face up, where he uses a strong jab-step to get Lawson swaying. He then pounds one dribble before locking-and-loading and connecting on the shot.
In the second possession we again see that turnaround jumper to the baseline Russell has seemed to take a liking to, and something I wouldn’t mind having him patent. There’s another former Los Angeles Laker who mastered that shot, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind imparting a hopeful Laker legend with knowledge on how to execute it with his exactness.
Russell’s athletic ability is limited. He’ll rarely burn defenders by turning the corner and exploding to the rim, and finishing over multiple defenders in the lane will be a rarity. Scorers find a variety of ways to put the ball in the basket despite the shortcomings their games may possess, and the post may be one of Russell’s most efficient scoring conduits to compensate for his lack of athletic ability and quickness.
I’m not sure why D’Angelo Russell has strayed from the post, but he’s shown that he’s capable of generating good offense from that area of the floor when he’s stationed there. Russell is only 21-years-old, so as he continues to refine his game maybe he’ll recognize that he can be a force in the post. For now, we’ll just have to appreciate the cameos he makes.