When the Los Angeles Lakers set forth this season, there was much hope that significant progress could be made with their young core group leading the charge. However, that hasn’t been the case for them currently sitting with one of the worst records in the league.
Following yet another disappointing loss on Sunday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, D’Angelo Russell had an intriguing response to what he plans on accomplishing over the last couple of weeks of the season.
D’Angelo on final 9 games: “Individually, I want to compete. Take it to another level these last 9 games & get something out of that.”
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) March 27, 2017
Russell has experienced his fair share of ups and downs in his second year in the league as he’s currently averaging 15.5 points with 4.7 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Russell has also scored in double figures 43 times including notching 20 or more points on 16 occasions.
That said, D’Angelo Russell has seen his play improve since the All-Star break as he’s averaging 19.2 points on 44.4 percent shooting from the field with 4.7 assists, and 1.9 steals. This includes Russell posting a career-high 40 points last week against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Russell is the youngest player in NBA history since LeBron James to record at least 40 points and six assists with one or fewer turnover in a single game.
D’Angelo Russell is the youngest to accomplish that feat in a Lakers’ uniform surpassing the likes of Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum. D’Angelo also joined LeBron James, Stephon Marbury, and Michael Jordan as the only players 21 or younger to reach that mark since 1983. Lastly, it also made D’Angelo the youngest in league history to knock down seven 3-pointers in three separate games at the age of 21.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton has continued to be quite confident in D’Angelo Russell’s offensive ability throughout the process. He had even recently moved him to shooting guard to better utilize his scoring prowess to a greater extent. Following Sunday’s tilt, Walton made it clear what he expects from Russell moving forward.
Luke Walton on D’Angelo Russell: “When he is off ball we want him looking for his shot. When he is on ball we want him facilitating more.”
— Bob Garcia IV (@bgarcia90) March 27, 2017
D’Angelo Russell has responded well offensively in the new role in the first four games since the move averaging 23.8 points on 49.2 percent shooting from the field and 46.4 percent from beyond the arc. Russell has registered at least 15 points in each contest while also dishing out five or more assists three times.
With that in mind, the Lakers have a difficult slate of games left ahead with several formidable backcourt matchups for D’Angelo Russell that include the likes of John Wall, Chris Paul, Tony Paker, Mike Conley, and Stephen Curry. Each of this should provide more of a litmus test as to where Russell is at in terms of his development through two full NBA seasons.
Despite the Lakers being eliminated from playoff contention for a fourth straight season, these last two weeks could provide the organization a better feel of the direction of the team. D’Angelo Russell is at the forefront of it all as there is much hope that he can develop into a franchise cornerstone player that can lead them to success.
With a new regime in the front office in place, the way they finish out the season could dictate what course of action is taken in offseason with the roster. Although Magic Johnson has preached that it will take some time for things to really take shape, there may be no hesitation when it comes to moving any number of their young players including D’Angelo Russell for proven talent such as Paul George or Jimmy Butler.
This could especially be the case with George voicing some level of uncertainty about his long-term future with the Indiana Pacers along with him holding some significant desire to join the Lakers in free agency after next season. It could very well push the Lakers to look to make a move as early as this upcoming summer in order to have a player like George in the mix even if it means trading away D’Angelo Russell.
This scenario alone could have a huge influence on D’Angelo’s mindset heading into the last couple of weeks of the season. Although it hasn’t played out in the fashion that Russell had hoped, there is still plenty of meaningful basketball left to play in his second campaign.
Ultimately, D’Angelo Russell clearly sees the importance of finishing the season out strong to show the Lakers and their fan base reason for optimism that he can lead the franchise back to prominence.
[Featured Image by Kelvin Kuo/AP Images]