Following the 2023 Western Conference Finals, Los Angeles Lakers fans everywhere were quick to grab their pitchforks and call for the end of D’Angelo Russell’s second tenure repping the purple and gold. It is true that D’Lo struggled mightily in that series, and those struggles have been widely documented.
Zoom out from that individual series and take a look at the bigger picture, and you will see a player that was plopped into a perfect situation once he was traded from Minnesota to Los Angeles. Initially pegged as the 3rd member of a newly formed “Big 3”, D’Lo was clearly an upgrade from a fit perspective in comparison with his predecessor, Russell Westbrook.
Over the course of the 17 regular season games he suited up for the Lakers last season, Russell averaged over 17 points per game, shot over 41% from beyond the arc, and led the team in assists per game at just over 6 a night. The 17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game were nice, but the 41.4% from downtown was exquisite. We have all heard the age-old sentiments regarding the need for shooting around LeBron James, and D’Lo definitely did his part to cover that need.
After the regular season ended last year, Russell was put to the ultimate test by being part of a LeBron James team during a championship run. In the opening series against the Grizzlies, his shooting numbers dipped just a tad but he was still able to contribute almost 17 points and 6 dimes per night. In Round 2 versus the Dubs, his shooting numbers from beyond the arc declined a bit more, and his scoring/assist numbers followed suit in this trajectory.
We will not even go into detail about what transpired for D’Lo in Round 3 against the Denver Nuggets. Surely that is a series that he has flushed from his memory, so we will scrap any notes on that matter from our sentences here.
At the end of the day, it does not matter that D’Angelo Russell struggled so heavily in that series. The only thing that matters at this point is how D’Angelo Russell responds. There has been no stoppage in dirt being thrown at D’Lo’s name since the start of the offseason, and a lot of fans really wanted this man traded for a bag of potato chips. But one season of a guaranteed $18 million and a team option for year two was incredibly team-friendly when it comes to Russell’s retention.
If D’Angelo Russell struggles again the Lakers at least have a contingency plan.
If worse comes to worst, the front office brought in Gabe Vincent over the summer for some serious insurance in the backcourt. If an injury were to occur to one of Austin Reaves or Russell, Vincent would be a capable replacement. If Austin Reaves or Russell are not performing up to their standards (almost seems impossible to consider that for Reaves at this point), Vincent is right there on the bench ready to claim their starting position. That is if he has not already earned that starting position from D’Lo before the start of the season.
Whatever the case may be with regard to the starting backcourt, D’Angelo Russell should have less playmaking/scoring responsibility this season than he has ever had in his career. As previously mentioned, Gabe Vincent provides a steady influence as a combo guard and could realistically play alongside either of the starting guards.
Austin Reaves has become a worldwide icon with his contributions to Team USA this summer, and surely the Laker organization is taking notice of his growth on the global stage. They already made it clear of their intentions to increase his offensive workload this upcoming season.
Factor in the playmaking/scoring of the LeBron James/Anthony Davis duo along with Rui Hachimura’s impending growth as a scorer, and there will not be a ton of offensive responsibility in the hands of D’Angelo Russell.
He will still be looked at to provide a secondary scoring/playmaking punch, but realistically this season could see Russell utilized more often times than not as a spot up specialist. He has never been shy about shooting the rock, so that type of role should not scare him. And with lowered expectations in other areas on offense, there will be less pressure on him overall whenever he is on the court.
We have all witnessed the sense of happiness that seemed to reside within Russell’s heart whenever he stepped onto the court last season for the Lakers. There is always going to be some pressure that takes away from that joy at least a little bit as a professional basketball player, and there will be loads of pressure on D’Lo to redeem himself after the end to the 2023 postseason. But with so many other weapons cast around him, all of that pressure should subside a substantial amount.
Thus, expect a huge year from D’Angelo Russell in 2023-2024. He may not put up 20 points per game, but keep an eye on those shooting numbers. He could be among the league leaders in 3-point percentage this season when all is said and done.