Lakers, Darvin Ham must lean on D'Angelo Russell's hot streak for success

Is Russell's recent level of play sustainable over the course of a playoff run?

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers
Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages
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As polarizing a player as he is, D'Angelo Russell has proven a lot of people wrong for the better part of this season. A near-three-month-long hot streak culminated when Russell had one of the best games of his career to edge Los Angeles over Milwaukee last Friday.

His 44 points, six rebounds and nine assists on 86.5% true shooting typified his potential on this Lakers squad as a high-usage, primary ball-handler. As big as that game was for Russell, it was only a small part of the 26-game heater he's been on.

Since being re-inserted into the starting lineup against Utah on Jan. 13, D-Lo has been averaging 21.9 points and 6.4 assists per game on scorching 47.2/45.3/84 shooting splits. This timeline is important because it is right around where Russell's role on the Lakers was being defined.

D'Angelo Russell slow start goes back to Lakers' failure to optimize him

Lakers coach Darvin Ham has shown an unfortunate flaw in his coaching this season. Roles have been undefined for the better part of the season and players haven't been put in the right spots to be optimized. Russell was one of the main victims of Ham's proclivities.

You can date D-Lo's misusage back to the Western Conference Finals where his deficiencies on defense overshadowed his value on offense, leading him to be parked in the corner for long stretches and seeing limited time on ball.

You saw this same thing happen during Russell's treacherous December stretch where, after a couple bad shooting games, his usage was cut, role became less clear and he was sent to the bench for 10 games (three due to injury).

Despite his recent stretch and because of the detailed skids, many are still skeptical as to whether Russell can sustain this output during the playoffs or not.

The proof, however, is right in front of our eyes. Russell's game is predicated on rhythm. If he has a defined role and knows what is expected of him, he can succeed at a higher level. The differences in his recent 26 games have been a clearly defined playmaking role and leeway to be more aggressive.

Letting Russell be a point guard works.

The Lakers have a 17-10 record (17-9 when he's played) since D-Lo's role changed on Jan. 13. During this span, they are 2nd in the league in offensive rating (119.3) and 3rd in pace (101.46) according NBA.com.

If the Lakers and Russell intend to succeed down the stretch of a playoff run, they have to learn from this extended streak that he is on. Put his rapport aside, what he's been doing for months now is working for both sides. Russell can be an X-factor for the Lakers if he's used correctly in the playoffs.

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