D'Angelo Russell has had his ups and downs this season, alternating between looking like everything is coming together for him to looking lost about his role in the Los Angeles Lakers' offense. This second perception may not be innacurate, according to the latest account from Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily and Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, who write that "Scott reported Russell knows about 20 percent of his playbook."
Russell, who was unwilling to estimate to Medina how much of the offense he feels like he has mastered, has looked ill at ease in Scott's offense at times, especially when waiting for action to develop off the ball after initiating the half-court offense. Where Russell has looked much more comfortable is when he has been put in pick-and-roll sets, of which his 175 this year rank first on the Lakers (who run more pick and rolls than any other team) and account for 41.3% of his offensive plays. However, when discussing how much of his offense he thinks Russell has grasped, Scott says there have still been times he's overruled Russell on that specific play call (emphasis mine):
"At times, he does know. Then at other times in the game, I think he has no clue," Scott said. "He'll call a play for a high pick-and-roll and we'll call it off. I'll say, ‘No. Let's do something that involves two or three passes.'"
There are two issues with Scott overruling plays with the goal in mind of generating more passes. First, passing more has not been shown to correlate with offensive efficiency. Second, the Lakers are 27th in the league in total passes and isolate more than any other team, so their other plays are not leading to many passes either.
Now it is important to point out that while Russell may be most comfortable running pick-and-rolls, it has not translated to a tremendous amount of success at it. Russell is averaging 0.73 points per possession on pick-and-roll sets, but this is not all his fault either, as our own Drew Garrison pointed out earlier this week in an examination of the Lakers' overall offensive struggles:
The Lakers lead the NBA in possessions used by pick-and-roll ball-handlers (21.8 percent of their offense), but are in the bottom-five in those same plays ending with the roll man. That's been a glaring issue watching them play, with their guards having a brutal time trying to feed their frontcourt partners once they take their screens. More often, the screening big man doesn't roll to the basket, instead lingering on the perimeter. The Lakers' inability to properly integrate a versatile pick-and-roll game has everything to do with personnel and strategy.
Defenders can easily help over the top to contest shots when the roll man isn't a factor:
However, just because the Lakers have not had a ton of success yet at running pick-and-rolls does not mean Scott should be trying to go away from a set Russell is most comfortable running. The Lakers would be better served putting an emphasis on telling their big men to roll if defenses are not respecting their shots. Even Russell's 0.73 points per possession on pick-and-rolls is better than the 0.71 points per possession the Lakers are averaging on isolations (there next most used play type excluding "spot-ups," which can come about on any play type and "transition," which is not a play a coach can call), and one of those numbers seems more likely to move upwards as the season goes on than the other one does.
For more on Russell, and how his rookie season and coaching treatment by Scott compares to how Scott handled the rookie campaign of Chris Paul, Medina and Morales' entire piece is worth a read.
All stats courtesy of NBA.com