In the Los Angeles Lakers win over Maccabi Haifa on Sunday night, head coach Byron Scott brought rookie D'Angelo Russell off the bench for the first time in his return from a glute injury. Russell played well in his return, dishing out 11 assists in his 18 minutes on the floor. Scott said after the game "I liked what I saw, as far as [Russell] playing out there with two guys, really three with Ryan out there who can flat out shoot the ball, and Lou and Nick as well... so I'll experiment with it a little bit more and see what happens."
"I've never been blessed enough to play with great shooters around me," Russell said after the win when asked what he thought about playing with that lineup of shooters versus a more traditional one. "I feel like whatever lineup I'm personally in I'm going to make the best out of it, but when I'm spoiled to have guys like that around me it's even better to have the opportunity to do that. When guys are making shots you're just dishing out assists, and whenever you get the opportunity to attack and do that also. So it makes the game easier."
After coming off of the bench for the second consecutive game in the Lakers' Tuesday night loss to the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas, Russell had changed his tune:
D'Angelo said his role off the bench past couple games has been "different," felt "foreign" to him, says he knows his role w/ starters...— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) October 14, 2015
D'Angelo cont.: "When I'm out there w/ the bench it's a different role, so when I get established on what my role is I'll figure it out."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) October 14, 2015
If Russell feels confused, that is understandable. Having to adapt to coming off of the bench after going through all of training camp playing as a starter could be jarring. Going from being the defacto ballhandler with the more freely passing starting unit to not knowing if he is going to get the ball back, and having to figure out how to play off ball in a new system, with Lou Williams and Nick Young as a bench player would be a stark transition for a seasoned point guard to deal with, not to mention a 19-year old rookie in his fourth preseason game.
However, while these comments will likely get blown out of proportion by people who want to get angry about Russell and say he is agitating for a starting spot, D'Angelo did say he believes that he will be able to figure out his role once he gets established. Even the most experienced NBA players want a clearly defined role, and if the coaching staff is not laying out what they expect from Russell that is a massive oversight. It may not be one that changes soon, given how Scott seemed to change his lineups on a whim for most of the season last year with little explanation to his players.
This is a situation worth monitoring as the preseason continues, but smart money is on a quick resolution with Russell back in the starting lineup for the Lakers' next game, when they host the Golden State Warriors in San Diego.