Lakers make-or-break player No. 3: D’Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell had a productive regular season last year, averaging 17.8 points, 6.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game on shooting splits of 47/40/83. However, he experienced a decline during the playoffs, with his numbers dropping to 13.3 points and 4.6 assists on inefficient shooting splits of 43/31/77; this has raised questions about his reliability and consistency heading into the next season.
The primary concern is whether Russell’s struggles in the playoffs were merely a poor stretch that he won’t repeat next season or if there’s a fundamental issue with his style of play in the more competitive postseason environment.
Adding to the uncertainty is Russell’s negative defensive RAPTOR rating of -1.9 last season. If his shooting remains as inefficient as it was in the playoffs, it could be challenging for the Lakers to justify playing him significant minutes, especially considering his defensive liabilities. In crucial moments, opponents could exploit his weaknesses, hunting him out on mismatches and neutralizing his impact on the court. When his shooting is off, his playmaking skills alone might not be enough to make a real impact, especially when LeBron James and Reaves already fulfill the primary and secondary playmaking roles.
That said, there is recognition that Russell is undeniably talented and has the potential to be a capable starting guard for a playoff-caliber team. To provide the Lakers with the much-needed fourth reliable option alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Reaves, Russell must find a way to transition his regular-season success to the playoffs.
However, if Russell fails to do so, the Lakers might consider other options. Newly signed free agent Gabe Vincent could emerge as a potential replacement. Additionally, the Lakers may explore trade opportunities if they feel Russell’s inconsistency becomes a hindrance.
Ultimately, Russell is a make-or-break player on the Lakers roster due to his inconsistency. When he’s hot and playing at his best, he adds another dimension to the Lakers’ offense, providing shooting and additional playmaking options. But if he struggles to find his rhythm or maintain his efficiency, the Lakers may have to make tough decisions regarding his role within the team.