D'Angelo Russell: NBA First-Team All-Underappreciated

D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers
D'Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

When you play next to legendary players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it is easy for your individual talent to be overshadowed. Add in the seemingly already iconic allure of Austin Reaves, who just popped off in his best overall game as a pro against the Celtics, and it is easy to understand why it can be so easy to get lost in the shuffle as a present member of the Lakers' supporting cast. The primary victim of the aforementioned hurdles this year has been D'Angelo Russell.

Despite remaining productive once again (17.0 PPG to along with 6.3 APG in his 46 games of action), D'Lo has found himself on the trade block yet again as the Lakers explore their options on the market. He has undoubtedly been the Lakers' best shooting threat (41.9% on 6.2 attempts per game), yet the team is looking to utilize his contract in an exchange that would almost certainly have to net them a return package containing some form of shooting. We are talking about a guy who is one of the NBA's top 20 outside shooters this season according to percentage, and he has always been known as a high-volume marksman.

And yet, each team that he has played on has shipped him out of town since Russell entered the league in 2015. First it was the Lakers ushering his relocation to Brooklyn in the 2017 offseason. Then it was the Nets sending him over to the Bay to play next to Steph in a backcourt experiment that was doomed from the get-go.

After that trial went poorly, it was the Warriors sending him to Minnesota in the middle of the 2019-2020 campaign. Finally, the circle came full when the Wolves flew him back over to Los Angeles right around this team a year ago.

Now it appears that the cycle may be recurring, as Russell has been the loudest name being heard on the trade block for the Lakers as we near the trade deadline. Even with his availability being undeniable, opposing teams appear to neglect the idea of "taking back" Russell in a trade with the primary concerns being his contract and his potential fit within a new unit.

D'Angelo Russell's contract is actually not bad as opposed to common theory

First and foremost, a two-year, $36 million contract is not terrible value in and of itself for Russell. It would be fair to plop D'Lo somewhere in the $15-20 million bracket. Plus, he has a player option after this season so it would not be impossible to imagine a team like San Antonio taking a flyer on him to see if he could gel with Wemby. If it panned out, he could exercise his option to run it back for a full season. In that scenario, if it did not lead to strong impressions from that point then the team could still use his contract in trade talks.

As a former 2nd overall pick, many envisioned him becoming a max-level caliber player. Maybe he has never fully climbed that summit, but you never read any stories about Russell being a bust. He has earned every penny that he has made in the league.

D'Angelo Russell's skillset/size combo makes him a moderately universal backcourt fit

Russell can do basically everything offensively. He can work on the ball as an operator in the pick and roll. His range extends well beyond the 3-point line, and his pull-up game is on point. He might not be known much for his ability to overpower anyone when attacking the rim, but his craftiness makes him much more than a jump shooter. Plus, he has more than proven capable of serving as a secondary table setter next to another ball-dominant player in the form of LBJ. He can do a lot of damage with the ball in his hands, but he does not always need it in order to be useful.

Defensively is where things get a bit hairy, but D'Lo's frame (6'5", 195 pounds) and lanky arms (6'10") at least make him an option to throw at most perimeter threats. That is by no means to say that he is a great option, and there would be a long list of names called before his if you were to re-draft the entire NBA based solely on defensive ability. But he repeatedly noted defense as his primary focus heading into this season, and he has received ample praise from teammates for his efforts on that end in 2023-2024.

Possible suitors/fits?

While it is perfectly justifiable to understand a team like the Hawks's negative stance pertaining to a potential Russell acquisition, there are most definitely a few teams that he could hypothetically be a quality fit for. A Trae Young-D'Angelo Russell backcourt would certainly score a surplus of points, but they would get eaten apart defensively. We noted the appeal of a potential big-little tandem with Wemby in San Antonio, but what about a LaMelo Ball-D'Angelo Russell pairing in Charlotte?

LaMelo stands 6'8" and while not a lockdown-level defender (yet), he is a disruptive one who has the instincts and basketball IQ to take on difficult defensive assignments. It also would not hurt having rookie Brandon Miller's combination of wingspan and athleticism to throw at opposing scorers. Sandwiching Russell in between those two cornerstones could wreak havoc on defenses, and if it did not work out then you can refer back to the potential paths the two sides could take as mentioned on the first slide.

Beyond the Hornets and Spurs, a rebuilding team like the Wizards could more than likely be talked into taking a flyer on Russell if it meant the inclusion of some type of draft compensation. The thought of a D'Angelo Russell-Jordan Poole combination defensively is dreadful. On the flip side, they could certainly sell a few more tickets offensively than a Tyus Jones-Poole pairing.

Either one and/or both of the combo guards could drop 30-40 on any given night, and if all of the stars aligned they might even be able to do it simultaneously on the same evening. And even if the stars never found their proper symmetry in terms of D'Lo and JP, it is not as Washington has any present 2023-2024 priorities outside of developing Bilal Coulibaly/Deni Avdija, obtaining as much draft capital/young talent as possible for guys like Kyle Kuzma/Tyus Jones/Daniel Gafford/Delon Wright, and overall just losing as many games as possible in pursuit of the #1 overall pick in June's NBA draft.

Other than the bottom dwellers, the situations in Orlando and Utah could trigger a higher appeal in the idea of snagging Russell.

In the case of the Magic, the young squad has shown a lot of growth compared to last season. With first time All-Star Paolo Banchero leading the charge with a more than worthy sideick in Franz Wagner standing by for support, Jamahl Mosley's team currently sits at 25-23 and is locked into a tie with Miami for the 7th seed in the East.

While Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs and Markelle Fultz form an intriguing young guard corps, none of the three comes close to the level of overall explosiveness that D'Angelo has. A Russell-Suggs starting backcourt looks beautiful on paper, with D'Lo infusing a new dynamic on offense and Suggs earning his keep on defense.

On the Jazz side of the spectrum, Will Hardy's team has once again hovered around the middle of the pack. It would take a miracle for Utah to make a serious championship run at a championship, with that even being the case looking beyond this season. Focusing on this season, they are going to have to scrap and claw their way through the remainder of their schedule just to battle for an In-Season tournament appearance. Let's assume a few things.

First, let's assume that the Wolves, Thunder, Clippers and Nuggets are locked into the top 4 seeds in the West. Then, let's assume that 2 of the Kings, Suns, Pelicans, and Mavericks are locks for the remaining two Western Conference outright playoff spots. Let's also assume in this scenario that all 4 of those teams are classified as "better" than the Jazz. That means that they will have to outpace the Lakers, Warriors, and/or Rockets just for a 9-10 seed.

Danny Ainge has assembled a nice young core in Utah, but it might be smart to go full-blown rebuild around the monsoon of draft capital that they have stashed away and current youngsters Lauri Markkanen (26), Collin Sexton (25), Walker Kessler (22), Keyonte George (20), Taylor Hendricks (20) and Ochai Agbaji (23). Give that core 3-4 years to grow with an infusion of mid-upper 1st round picks each year and then let's have a discussion about patience.

The Jazz will more than likely be active at the deadline, and guys like Jordan Clarkson, John Collins, and Talen Horton-Tucker could all be on the way out. Whether or not that would result in any of them re-routing to Los Angeles is unsure, but let's assume that the Jazz helped facilitate a three-team blockbuster for some draft picks.

In this scenario, Utah would prioritize the future over the present. With the organizational motives shifting to an approach more aligned with the ones in Washington and Detroit, Russell would have a sizable role and a significant opportunity to improve his overall perception around the association.

Let's say he was routed to Utah at the deadline in some type of deal built around Dejounte Murray, and the Jazz improved as a team similar to the way the Lakers did in 2022-2023 after acquiring D'Lo? Let's also assume in this scenario that Russell comes in and balls out to the tune of something like 24 PPG and 8 APG on 50/40/80 shooting splits.

The Jazz fall during their lone In-Season tournament game, but D'Angelo drops 29 in the game on 14 shots and hands out 9 helpers. With the NBA salary cap reportedly set to inflate approximately $6 million for the 2024-2025 season, would it be insane to picture Russell opting out of his player option for next season and re-signing/signing elsewhere for something in the $25-30 range?

Yes, we are talking about the same D'Angelo Russell who current opposing GMs are avoiding for financial purposes. However, it might not be as outlandish and foolish as you first feel.

D'Angelo Russell is not a hero, but he is a hooper

This article is not to go on the record in endorsing D'Angelo Russell as a premier NBA player. He raised a lot of character concerns off the court early on in his career, and it did not help that he had a streaky first few seasons in the league. But time has passed and the once immature youngster is now a soon-to-be 28-year-old father. It is safe to say that he is not the same person now that he was as a 20-year-old playboy.

He certainly comes with his flaws on the court, as every basketball player does. But he can do some things on the floor that a lot of other players simply cannot.

Splashing a clutch triple in a critical road game broadcast on national television against a bitter division rival?


Fitting pristine passes into the puniest of pockets?

Slight work.

We would be crazy to state that Russell is a superstar type player that any team should be itching to acquire, but you would be crazy to disqualify D'Lo as a legitimate starting-level player that any team could rationally stand to benefit from. He may only have one All-Star appearance on his resume, but he brings a lot to the table.

You could do much, much worse than D'Angelo Russell in terms of building a successful guard tandem. And with his skillset not relying on athleticism in the slightest, it would not be crazy to project him somewhere in the 15-20 PPG, 5-8 APG, 37.5-42.5% 3-point shooting range over the course of the next decade.

Those might not be Hall of Fame numbers, and the chances of D'Angelo Russell ascending into a Hall of Fame player seem slim. He may never receive formal enshrinement in the history books, but there is no questioning his bona find status as a certified hooper.

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