Our next breakout potential candidate is none other Los Angeles point guard D’Angelo Russell. At 20 years old he’ll be in his second year going into his first. Let me explain.
If you didn’t have a chance to watch the Lakers last season, you shouldn’t feel too bad. Not only did the team base its offense around Kobe Bryant as if he was a 28-year-old, but they had a mediocre coach who never communicated well with the teams new franchise player D’Angelo Russell. In response, Russell had an up and down rookie season plagued with inconsistent roles, minutes, and a snapchat incident that got awkward quick.
Now entering a new year, Russell will no longer be under the direction of an incompetent coach, or be held back by the Kobe Bryant retirement tour. Instead, he’ll be given full access to the keys of a young Lakers team to begin the new dynasty. This season should be a coming out of sorts for Russell, he may not be an all-star this year in a loaded West, but here’s why I think he’ll have fans giving him some serious consideration.
The first thing that strikes you about D’Angelo Russell is his craftiness. He’s one of the more athletic-adverse guards, but has good measurable for a point guard (6’5 with a 6’9 wingpspan), and he uses that to his advantage with great finishes at the rim.
Russell has also shown the ability to be a strong shooter. At 35.1% the numbers suggest that he’s just an average shooter, but his stroke shows a player that has no limits. He’s most comfortable off the catch, (36.5% on catch and shoot opposed to 33.1% on pull-ups), making the pairing with another ball-handler a bit more seamless. In limited attempts, Russell converted on 1.08ppp on limited attempts as an isolation player, ranking him in the 94.8 precentile. Where he actually needs some work is his pick and roll play, where despite using it at a 38.3% frequency, he only converts .71ppp. Part of that is being surrounded with mediocre talent plus being a rookie still adjusting to the game, and the other part was just a tendency to focus too much on his own offense. In year two, the game will slow down for Russell, and with more ball-handling duties the pressing should be more limited as well.
If anything can hold back Russell it will most likely be his defense. The young guard was atrocious last year, looking lost when tasked with making multiple rotations and didn’t give much effort fighting through screens. In his second year Russell will most likely still face similar issues, but we should expect more effort since he’ll be given the tag as a leader on the team. One area that Russell could really add to his game is rebounding. Last season, Russell ranked 16th among point guards in defensive rebounding rate amongst players who played 25 or more minutes. Lakers were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last season, ranking 27th in total rebounding rate, and 24th in defensive rebounding rate. A great way to play defense is to limit the amount of attempts that the other team gets. By getting more involved in rebounding, Russell could aid with that, and in the process be able to create more transition opportunities–something young teams rely on.
Russell’s offensive potential should leave fans salivating for the season to begin. His feel, vision, and scoring ability are a rare combination for a prospect at his age, and it bodes well for his potential hierarchy in the league. This season, Russell should expect to see his usage rate jump to the high 20’s to early 30’s, and with that will come the big scoring numbers. Being on a bad team will raise questions on whether his numbers are inflated, but regardless, the talent and risen opportunity will make for one strong season.