The Los Angeles Lakers are a complete mess. December sparked the beginning of the team’s fall from grace. Heading into the All-Star break, fans in Tinseltown have been left disappointed. Wednesday’s 36-point loss to division rivals Phoenix summed up the Lakers season. Heading into the season, fans expected the Lakers young core to show improvement. The likes of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and rookie Brandon Ingram were singled out as the key group. Randle has shown solid improvement and Ingram has displayed flashes of what he could become. One of the more confusing players has been Russell. The talented point guard continues to impress when available, but the youngster’s relationship with head coach Luke Walton has been a confusing one.
D’Angelo Russell’s Relationship with Luke Walton is Confusing
Russell is developing well
Russell, 20, is slowly developing into a key player for this young Lakers team. When healthy, the former No.2 overall pick has proven to be valuable. Russell has averaged 14.2 points, 4.7 assists, and 3.8 rebounds through 42 games this season. Standing at 6’5”, Russell has the body to do everything well on the court. Taking advantage of smaller point guards is something Russell does effectively and should do more of in the future. Earlier this month, Russell matched up against Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, going on to put up 20 points, six assists, and six rebounds.
The confusing relationship
Under Walton, Russell has begun to produce more but his role has become confusing. Russell still contributes well game-to-game, but Walton appears to have a trust issue. Currently, Russell is playing just 26.5 minutes per game. This simply isn’t enough for a player who is supposed to be a cornerstone for the franchise. The Lakers have a very talented player in Russell, the numbers prove so. Per 36 minutes, Russell averages 19.3 points and 6.4 assists. Now Russell doesn’t have to play the full 36, but a minutes increase would benefit Russell, Walton, and ultimately the Lakers as a whole.
The fourth quarter of Lakers games has only added to the confusion. Walton has opted to bench Russell in favor of Jordan Clarkson or Lou Williams. This has led to Russell losing rhythm and confidence late in games. The Lakers season is already over, but this is still a necessary adjustment for the sake of Russell’s development. Walton needs to realize that having Russell in the lineup 30 plus minutes will be good for the team long-term.
Russell is partly to blame
When you’re drafted as high as D’Angelo Russell, a lot is expected of you. Now in his second year, Russell has to prove that he’s here for the long-term and put away doubts in fans minds. Not all are convinced of the second-year guards potential, despite the obvious talent. The numbers speak for themselves, but that doesn’t stop Lakers fans from dissecting Russell’s performances game to game. From injury problems to some level of inconsistency expected from a player as young as Russell. Fans are confused and worried about Russell and whether he really is the future.
One other aspect is Russell’s style of play. Russell needs to be more aggressive offensively on a regular basis. In the 11 games where Russell goes to the free-throw line on five or more occasions, he scores in double-digits in nine of those games. Russell currently goes to the line just shy of three times per game. This simply isn’t enough.
D’Angelo Russell has a bright future in the association, whether or not that future is in Los Angeles is another question. The NBA Trade Deadline falls on February 23rd. This just so happens to be Russell’s 21st birthday. Hopefully, Lakers fans will still have their extremely talented guard for the foreseeable future.