D'Angelo Russell is going to be challenged on defense every night. He's going to earn more minutes under Byron Scott by taking up that responsibility and becoming a positive on that end of the floor for the Los Angeles Lakers. That's no small task for a 19-year-old who's now a starting point guard for a professional team after one year of college, but he's been surprisingly good on defense so far.
It's a relief to see positive signs this early from him considering defense was one of the big questions marks hanging over his head as a top prospect. While he had great measurables and a physical profile that projected well, his lateral quickness and foot speed left many wondering how long he'd be a liability on that end of the floor before he could balance out as a defender.
Luckily, he's already showing good things individually, even if the Lakers as a team are struggling defensively. It's been much more noticeable over the back-to-back, where Russell was lined up against both Goran Dragic and Elfrid Payton.
Here's an example of him sticking to Payton's hip on a drive while contesting a shot in the paint:
It's a single sequence, but it's a positive sign. That's the same kind of defense we saw out of him in Miami, when he was hounding Goran on the perimeter and chasing him through screens:
And you could go back to him eating Deron Williams alive on this drive as an example of Russell actually doing great defensively:
Sure, it's not against the best ball-handlers in the league, but it's important that he's showing he isn't going to be the one getting eaten alive against every opposing point guard in the league. His length is a great tool, and we're seeing him leverage it to alter shots already.
Outside of some nice individual instances of good defense, this sequence with Julius Randle was incredibly impressive. Randle and Russell switch when Tobias Harris sets a screen for Payton, but the rotation they make when Julius chases the entry pass to Tobias is incredible.
Russell immediately shoots out for his rotation back, doesn't foul, and challenges the shot well. That's a great play, through and through, and the quick decision here is impressive.
So yes, the Lakers' defense has been horrid and is allowing 108.8 points per 100 possessions. And no, a few GIFs and a Vine of a highlight play isn't enough to close this book, but we're seeing good defensive sequences already from D'Angelo Russell. If this is where he's at as a rookie, it looks like a great foundation to build on.