Byron Scott, man of the people. This is not a phrase that would normally be associated with the beleaguered Los Angeles Lakers head coach. However, after facing calls for his job partially for benching D'Angelo Russell for the entire fourth quarter one night ago against the Miami Heat and limiting his closing time in the final frame all season, Scott responded, playing Russell 31 minutes total and letting him attempt to close out a tightly contested road loss to the Orlando Magic.
Before the game, Scott told reporters that he was protecting Russell by not playing him in the fourth quarter. "I'm not going to throw him to the wolves, per se, just because he's the No. 2 [overall] pick," Scott told Baxter Holmes of ESPN. Luckily for Russell, the Lakers were playing the Magic Wednesday night, and not the Minnesota Timberwolves, so Russell was given seven minutes of fourth quarter playing time. How did the rookie do? The results were mixed.
In his seven minutes of floor time in the final frame, Russell scored 2 points on 1-3 shooting with 2 rebounds. Russell's usage rate of 21.5 was higher than his season average (20), but lower than his usage rate for the whole game (27.2, which was a team high) . Russell also had zero assists and zero turnovers.
It's disappointing that after being given the reins the entire game that Russell's leash was pulled back for the fourth, but how did Russell do on the possessions he did use?
Russell's first shot came with 6:25 left in the game, late in the shot clock after the Magic almost forced a turnover:
With only six seconds to make a play, Russell did his best to turn lemons into lemonade, bursting into a contested midrange jumper that was probably the best shot the Lakers were going to get in that situation.
Russell's second look came out of a screen and roll with Roy Hibbert, essentially the best play the Lakers can run for their rookie guard right now, and Russell delivered, turning on the afterburners after losing Shabazz Napier on Hibbert's screen to get right into the body of Nikola Vucevic for a strong finish. Confident stuff with around three and a half minutes left in a tie game, especially from a 19-year old rookie getting his first chance to take the reins in crunch time.
Russell's third and final used possession of the game came with three minutes to go, where he again used a pick and roll to get past poor Napier and isolated one on one with Vucevic. This time however, Vucevic got down and stayed back, conceding space in order to bait Russell into a mid-range jumper and the rookie obliged him. It would have been nice to see a little more aggressiveness from Russell here, to force the issue and take it right at Vucevic again.
All in all though, pretty good, composed stuff from a rookie who's confidence looked shaken in his postgame press availability less than 24-hours before. The only decision I really did not like was the final play call, when Russell (who was probably instructed to do this) held the ball for over 10 seconds before giving it up to Lou Williams for.... something:
Again, Russell was likely instructed to hold the ball and kill clock, but it would have been nice to see him get a chance to attack again off of a pick and roll. Still, the Lakers made baby steps in Russell's usage tonight. "I'm built for this," Russell said of having the ball in his hands in the clutch. Hopefully he continues getting more chances to show it.
All stats from NBA.com