What Role Will the Lakers Give D’Angelo Russell This Season?


The preseason has finally come to an end and many of the young Lakers players have looked good so far.

Jordan Clarkson continues to shine, while Julius Randle has begun to look like a potential superstar. Larry Nance Jr. has come on so strong in recent games that Coach Byron Scott must be trying to figure out how to get him minutes in the regular season.

Even, though his stats are minimal, Anthony Brown has so impressed Scott that he has started the past four games. Marcelo Huertas is a 32 year old rookie who has at times resembled Steve Nash in his prime.

While these rookies and second year players have mostly met or exceeded expectations, not all of the news is positive in Laker-land. D’Angelo Russell, the prize rookie who was immediately pegged the future face of the franchise when he was drafted, has struggled.

Given that he was such a high draft choice, Russell is going to play this year but Scott will have to make a decision on the precise role when the season starts.

While the Lakers have tried to downplay his unimpressive performance thus far, the truth is, at age 19, Russell has shown that he is just not ready at this stage to be a starting point guard in the NBA.  He may become a fine NBA player one day, but it will take time.

Fans are told that Russell is a dazzling passer with great court vision. He has indeed made a few fine passes here and there, but many of his passes have gone awry.  In fact, in recent games, he is hardly registering any assists at all.

Because Russell has started slowly, Clarkson, who is speedier and more aggressive, has been forced to play point guard more than shooting guard. On the defensive end, it is likely the Lakers will count on Clarkson to guard the likes of Damian Lillard, Russell Westbook, Chris Paul, and John Wall who are just too strong and fast for Russell at this point. 

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To be an effective NBA player Russell must be able to score. He was billed as a good outside shooter in college but so far has struggled to make shots.

However, in the recent game against Portland, he re-entered the game in the last few minutes after playing poorly in the first half. He looked aggressive hitting four mid-range jump shots to help secure the victory for the Lakers.

Could those five minutes be the start of a turnaround for Russell?

Although it is reported that he is oozing with confidence, his recent body language on the court tells a different story.

Even after Ryan Kelly had the game winning dunk against the Blazers, which sent many Lakers players into a frenzy, Russell could be seen in the background looking stoic as he left the court. He does not look like the same brash fellow fans saw when he was first drafted. How can his confidence best be regenerated?

Previously, it was a foregone conclusion that Russell would start at point guard from day one. That might still happen, but one must question whether it would be better for Russell and the team were he to come off the bench at least to start the season.

Much has been written about how Clarkson benefited by being brought along slowly last year, and perhaps Russell would likewise thrive if given an opportunity to ease into the starter’s role later in the season.

Brown has started at small forward the past four games, and Kobe Bryant, while Russell was injured, was starting at guard. Is there any value in keeping this starting line-up when the season begins?

If so, what does the team do with Huertas, who, at the moment, could run rings around Russell as a point guard? Could Huertas start, with Bryant moving to small forward, thus allowing Russell to play point guard with the second unit?

The second unit is going to include gunners Nick Young and Lou Williams at shooting guard and small forward. It will also include some combination of Brandon Bass, Tarik Black, Kelly, and Nance at power forward and center. Would it be wiser to surround Russell with this more free-flowing unit to start his career?

Despite legitimate questions about his lack of strength and speed, it is far-too-early to make any legitimate judgments on Russell’s future. Many highly touted rookies start slowly, and it may take half a season before Russell begins to show his true potential.

In the meantime, it is important in this rebuilding year that he get plenty of minutes, but whether those minutes should come as a starter alongside Bryant and the rest of the first unit, or as a reserve who still gets on the floor every night, is something the Lakers will need to decide in the next few days.

What do you think D’Angelo Russell’s role should be for the Lakers this season? Let us know in the comments below.

Next: How Much Will Jordan Clarkson Cost LA This Summer?