With the Los Angeles Lakers trekking through the final stretch of another disappointing season, first-year head coach Luke Walton has taken this opportunity to further evaluate the younger talent on the roster. Much of this focus has been on the play of second-year guard D’Angelo Russell.
It has been an interesting last couple of weeks for Russell having seen his role with the team see some major changes. Walton had benched him last week in favor of third-year guard Jordan Clarkson to see what he can do with the point guard duties in the starting lineup. This move to the bench had also coincided with Russell coming off one of his most productive stretches averaging 19.3 points over the previous 10 contests while notching double-figures in all but one game over that span.
D’Angelo Russell’s time off the bench only lasted three games before he was placed back into the starting lineup on Sunday night against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. He made the most of this opportunity by scoring a career-high 40 points, which made him the youngest player in Los Angeles Lakers’ history to reach that scoring mark surpassing the likes of Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum for that feat
This scoring outburst also put him in some exclusive company joining the likes of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Stephon Marbury as the only players 21-years-old or younger to record at least 40 points and six assists while committing one or fewer turnovers. It also made him the first player to make at least seven 3-pointers in at least three games prior to turning 22-years-old.
In light of that impressive outing, Walton voiced much praise toward D’Angelo Russell that gave him more reason to keep him as the starting shooting guard moving forward, according to the LA Times.
“We’re still trying to evaluate and see some things,” Coach Luke Walton said.
“With the starting group, I’d prefer to watch Jordan run the traditional point spot and D’Angelo to get out on the wing. … The perfect world is them being interchangeable. For now, I want to see what D’Angelo does as an off-guard, I want to see what Jordan does as a point guard.”
All of this seemingly came days after Magic Johnson, who is the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, and general manager Rob Pelinka met with each player on the team individually. The message for Russell from management was simply to be more aggressive, and he certainly answered the bell with the best scoring night of his young career.
That said, since being selected with the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, D’Angelo Russell has played solely at point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. The decision to move him to shooting guard could be a move made to best utilize his scoring ability more than his passing skills. He put that on full display against one of the league’s premier scorers in Kyrie Irving going toe to toe with him in the scoring column on Sunday night.
According to the Orange County Register‘s Mark Medina, Luke Walton is hoping this position change could lead to more high volume production from the 21-year-old with more emphasis being made toward him being more assertive on the offensive end of the floor.
“It’s when he’s engaged and doing other things, it allows him to make those type of shots because you’re in rhythm,” Walton said.
“They tend to go in a lot more when you’re doing all the other parts of the game the right way. A lot of times if his shot is not going in, it’s natural for most young players, they rely too much on whether they’re scoring or not to affect how they’re playing the rest of the game. He seems to be disengaged when the ball is not going in for him.”
More importantly, the newfound role for D’Angelo Russell could help the Los Angeles Lakers further determine his place in the team’s future plans beyond this season.
[Featured Image by Kelvin Kuo/AP Images]