D'Angelo Russell is a point guard, which means the pick-and-roll is and will always be his best friend. The Los Angeles Lakers have been starved for talent at this position, a wound they tried to bandage with Steve Nash and are now in transition to handing off to the No. 2 pick out of Ohio State.
The Lakers are putting up just 97.5 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com, which puts them in the bottom-three of the league through the first stretch of the season. That number drops to 95.8 points per 100 when Russell's on the court, so things are far from smooth while he's on the floor. Ultimately he needs more time -- not an increease in minutes per game tomorrow, but weeks, months, and years.
Still, where he's made a good mark is his shooting from mid-range, particularly on the left side of the court. Many of these makes are coming out of that handy pick-and-roll, where he looks as smooth as advertised when he pulls up for a jumper. 48 of D'Angelo's 105 points this season are from field goals taken while he is the pick-and-roll ball-handler, according to NBA.com. Creating separation to the rim on drives might be something we don't see often from him, but that pull-up jumper is where he can attack defenders right now:
And that's clearly where he's been effective season:
Roy Hibbert's been the big man setting the most consistent screens for him on these attempts, which makes sense considering 225 of the 273 minutes Russell's played have been with Roy on the court. D'Angelo's ability to shoot coming off of screens is also one of the ways the Lakers can effectively use the numerous handoffs from their big men to their guards:
That's nothing to throw a rally down Figueroa about, but these are the kind of details we can take as positives from what we've seen thus far. It's going to take patience to see how he develops, but he's on track in several areas already as a "true" point guard. He looks confident pulling up for jumpers, and with his passing -- especially how good he is at exploiting the pocket -- he has a solid starting tool set to take defenses to work.
These pick-and-roll actions are also how the Lakers can involve their other guard, Jordan Clarkson.
Opening the floor for Clarkson
How the backcourt duo of Clarkson and Russell develops together is one of the biggest areas the Lakers need to evaluate this season. Clarkson needs to be effective when the ball isn't in his hands, and he's been doing that by shooting a red-hot 44.7 percent from deep to kick off his sophomore season.
That opens up "dream" sequences like this from Julius, D'Angelo and Jordan. Randle sets a screen for Russell and rolls into the paint:
Randle charging into the paint causes the Pistons to collapse into the paint, leaving Clarkson wide-open on the perimeter:
Because defenders have to respect his shot, it forces a hard closeout. Clarkson attacks his man and finishes at the rim to cap off a nice sequence from the young trio:
And here it is in motion:
Again, that's possible because Clarkson is draining threes to start the year, as he does out of this pick-and-roll dish from Russell:
Add in some cutting from Jordan to complement D'Angelo's timing and court vision, and there are some good things that can happen from these sequences:
The team needs to exploit defenses away from the ball when D'Angelo initiates the offense out of pick-and-rolls, and Clarkson's their most important piece in that puzzle going forward. Using him in any of those ways above gives the Lakers a dynamic pick-and-roll game that can open up their offense as they become more comfortable playing off each other.
It's been a slow start to the process, though, and the focus has mostly been on why Russell has yet to put on a signature game. He's doing good things with the ball in his hands, but as we're learning early on, it's mostly in the finer details.