D'Angelo Russell's passing ability and court vision were two of the things Los Angeles Lakers fans were looking most forward to this season. It's been too long since the purple and gold have had a dynamic point guard, and Russell's ability to move the rock was supposed to be the rain to quench the floor general drought in Los Angeles.
2.9 assists in 24.9 minutes per game has been far from a dazzling display from D'Angelo, though. That lack of passing production can be attributed to many things, ranging from a lack of playing time, an offensive system that isn't catering to a point guard creating, and his own development as a rookie playing against professionals.
But watching the Lakers' loss to the Dallas Mavericks, there were several instances of Russell making great passes and reads only for his teammates to botch the possession. It's hard to account for that type of issue on paper, but a session in the film room brings out how several of his assist opportunities failed to convert.
One of the most obvious examples came in the fourth quarter, as the Lakers were trying to chase down the Mavericks. D'Angelo uses a pick from Roy Hibbert to slither toward the paint, then picks out Lou Williams who slid out to the corner away from his defender. Instead of taking a WIDE-OPEN three-pointer or even a mid-range jumper, however, he tries to drive into a packed-in paint to draw a foul. No foul is called, and Williams is eventually called for a technical while complaining about it on the other end:
The pass was on the money, but Lou's decision was not. Why drive into this... :
...when you shot 48.5 percent on corner threes last season? Yes, it's a single decision, but that was a great find from Russell, and Lou would have been better off just taking the shot -- that is the most effective shot in the NBA, after all.
It's not just Lou, either. With the Lakers down five with just over a minute left in the fourth, Russell makes another great read, this time finding Metta World Peace at the top of the arc. The pass isn't PERFECT, but without a defender anywhere near him, he really should be more prepared to catch and shoot. Instead, he bobbles the pass, then tries to drive in from the perimeter and misses an attempt at the rim:
Again, look at the kind of space the Lakers had. Russell could have also hit Clarkson cutting to the rim, but it's hard to blame him for dishing out to a wide-open Metta, who's been lights out from deep to start the season, especially down five with time slipping away:
Even Russell's interior passing has been pretty good, but without finishers in the frontcourt, it means very little. D'Angelo does a great job cutting into the paint off ball, and wrapping his pass around Zaza Pachulia was a great dish, but again there's no payoff for this pass. Hibbert gets to the free-throw line here, at least:
Russell ended the night with five assists, which isn't going to raise any eyebrows anywhere in the league, but it's fairly obvious he's making the right play often. That his teammates aren't converting shot opportunities, or are flat out making bad decisions once they get the ball, isn't his fault.
At the end of the day, the biggest takeaway from this should be that despite the low quantity of actual assists Russell is being credited for, he's still doing some very good things to create for the Lakers' offense. At 19, that's an impressive feat, and hopefully the team improves as a whole at turning these passes into points.