Byron Scott didn't make a final decision to play D'Angelo Russell in the Los Angeles Lakers starting lineup until opening day, and even then the plan was to play him off-ball in his first NBA minutes. Russell will shift back to his natural role as a ball-handling point guard, Scott told media during practice following their season-opening loss.
Transitioning to an offense controlled by a 19-year-old rookie isn't a simple task to control, but ultimately it's for the better that he's allowed that opportunity. Russell is the point guard that's supposed to be THE point guard for the Lakers, and right now this is more "let's start paddling in the kiddie pool" than "sink or swim" as they go through the developmental process.
Part of the building pressure from the outside might be the simple fact that D'Angelo hasn't had a "signature" game yet. It's been a great pass here and a pick-and-roll jumper there, more than a total package through a game. He played fairly limited minutes through preseason and barely had the ball in his hands on opening night. Russell ended his debut with four points and two assists, which was clearly nothing to feel incredibly overwhelmed by at first glance. He did some impressive things when he actually had a chance to make plays, though, like he does here in a high pick-and-roll with Brandon Bass:
And that doesn't come across on the stat sheet. What matters more -- marking an assist in the column, or the fact that he can make that pocket pass already? Considering the Lakers' offense devolved to isolation attempts through the second half against Minnesota, giving D'Angelo a chance to work some simple screen sets like that with the starting unit should give some life to the team.
There's also the matter of Russell's teammates not converting some of the assist opportunities he creates. Take this heater in transition that Roy Hibbert actually calls for, yet still fails to pluck out of the air:
And yes, he knows it was his bad:
And how do you account for a sequence like this offensive rebound he grabs before he picks out Kobe in the corner whilst whirling like a tornado:
Sure, the shot didn't go down, but if that sails through the net it'd be racking millions of loops on Vine.
Byron Scott and the Lakers are doing the right thing by taking a step back and putting an end to playing Russell off-ball. Letting him breathe in more than two or three minutes as the point guard of a lineup is the first of many steps ahead for both D'Angelo and LA to open up an offense that look suffocated. It's a process, but when you analyze it as such, it's easy to see why there's reason for optimism.