Lakers D’Angelo Russell Is More Than Just a Pretty Passer


In the time since D’Angelo Russell has been drafted, commentators, journalists, and even coaches have had a lot to say about his game. Almost everyone is in agreement about one thing, the kid can flat out pass. His court vision is clearly at a level rarely seen in a player his age and his ability to make the ball follow his eyes is not far behind.

However, other parts of his game have not been evaluated quite as favorably. In fact, some people have begun to pick Russell’s game apart in ways that really aren’t justified or even reasonable. This article simply serves as a reminder of what the Lakers young point guard is capable of, what he might do, and what he’s already done.

The criticism that has been the most confounding has been regarding his jump-shot. In the months since Summer League and during the Preseason, there have been articles and commentaries referring to Russell needing to either work on or develop his outside shot. This commentary from professionals and fans has even gone as far as comparing Russell to players like Rajon Rondo or Ricky Rubio, even though Rubio did light the Lakers up last night.

D’Angelo Russell very well may have been the best shooter in all of NCAA Basketball last season

Regardless, this criticism is shortsighted and based on an extremely small sample size. In the Summer League, Russell did not shoot the ball particularly well, 40 percent from the field and an eye-watering 12 percent from three-point range in five games.

While these numbers viewed alone would be a cause for concern, this analysis ignores a critically important fact: D’Angelo Russell very well may have been the best shooter in all of NCAA Basketball last season.

Over a complete season of college basketball D’Angelo shot 41.5 percent from deep, all while playing the point guard and facilitating his team’s offense. These numbers become even more impressive when you consider both the volume of his shots, he averaged seven three-point attempts per game, and the fact that, as he grew into the best offensive player on his team, he became the focal point of every opponent’s defensive scheme.

Even in the limited time he’s spent in the NBA, Russell has shown the ability to consistently knock down jump-shots from the elbow area out to around the college three-point line. Although he has struggled from the NBA three-point range, this is to be expected as young players often need to add strength to become comfortable with the range.

While Russell hasn’t yet shown his full shooting skill at the NBA level, it would be foolish to assume that it has disappeared. While it’s reasonable to expect that it will take him some time to adjust to the further NBA three-point line, as well as his new teammates, there is definitely no reason to compare his shot to Rondo’s anytime soon.

Another part of Russell’s game that has been criticized recently is his athleticism. While it’s true that the young point guard is not an elite level athlete in terms of speed, this should not be a surprise to anyone. NBA scouts were well aware of his athletic limitations in the lead-up to the draft, and yet he was a top five rated prospect on nearly every board.

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Those who now call Russell’s potential into doubt because of those same limitations, forget that the Lakers were well aware of his strengths and weaknesses prior to the draft. Another important thing to remember is the fact that Jahlil Okafor, the other prospect under consideration for the Lakers with the number two pick, has very similar issues with speed and athleticism.

Russell is not the type of player who relies on explosiveness or speed to beat opponents and the same can be said for several superstar point guards in the league. Players like Chris Paul and Stephen Curry are the golden standard at the point in today’s NBA, and neither of them are considered elite athletes. Similar to these players, Russell compensates for his shortcomings with high basketball IQ, finesse, deception, and great passing instincts.

However, Russell actually possesses something that neither of these players have, phenomenal size and length for his position. Listed at 6’ 5” with an almost 6’ 10” wingspan, Russell will have a size advantage against the majority of matchups he will face in the NBA. This fact makes his athleticism even less of a concern, as length can be even more valuable than jumping ability at times.

Regardless of his physical traits, Russell has the skills and coordination to leverage all of his gifts into a coherent, and deadly, combination. That process will of course take time, but this season should give the fans plenty of reasons to be excited for Russell’s development.

For now, stop worrying, sit back, and enjoy the show.

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