The Los Angeles Lakers lost for the 25th time this season in their Christmas Day showdown with the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, but despite going down by as much as 28 points at one point, the team showed signs of hope and progress as well. D'Angelo Russell had one of his better games of the season, scoring 16 points on 7-13 shooting to go with 7 rebounds. The rookie point guard helped lead the Lakers' fourth quarter near comeback, including a 17-2 run to begin the fourth quarter that forced Clippers head coach Doc Rivers to bring his starters back into a game they previously felt they had in the bag.
With Russell, Marcelo Huertas, and Julius Randle pushing the pace in transition with Nick Young and Brandon Bass, the Lakers looked like a real, competitive NBA team in the fourth quarter outscoring the Clippers 27-9 overall in the period. The group was effective enough that Byron announced his plans to keep his rotation the same for the rest of 2015 and "plans to reevaluate after [the] New Year," according to Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News.
Scott also knew who he wanted to credit for the Lakers' fourth quarter run:
Byron Scott says Marcelo Huertas was the catalyst in the fourth quarter for the quasi comeback— Bill Oram (@billoram) December 26, 2015
To credit a little used bench player in Huertas (who had probably his best stretch of play since the preseason, scoring 6 points on 3-4 shooting, with 2 assists and 2 rebounds in 12 fourth quarter minutes) makes sense in a vacuum for a coach trying to keep his entire team engaged. But then Scott turned right around and criticized his other rookie point guard after one of his best efforts of the year:
Byron Scott on D'Angelo Russell: "He had some really good moments & he had some moments defensively where it was not there."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) December 26, 2015
Days after criticizing Russell's understanding of the playbook, that Scott continues to critique the 19-year old he has been charged with developing through the media rather than in private while at the same time asking fans to have patience with him makes very little sense on it's face, especially after a night in which Russell made key defensive plays like this one with just over four minutes remaining in regulation:
On the above play, Russell picked up Chris Paul in the backcourt, then was able to poke the ball away and win a battle for it on the ground when Paul tried to catch it again. Was Russell perfect defensively? Of course not. No rookie point guard is. But continuing to call out a 19-year old who is clearly giving full effort to improve after being benched seems like a way to quickly lose his ear. Russell already sounds like he is tired of coming off of the bench:
D'Angelo:"You obviously don't want to stay a reserve, no disrespect, but you just wanna keep that edge, like feeling you should be starting"— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) December 26, 2015
D'Angelo continued: "Not saying that you're better than the next guy, but just playing like I deserve to be out there starting this game."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) December 26, 2015
Russell's teammate Kobe Bryant offered a bit higher praise for his game, telling Serena Winters of Lakers Nation that Russell "Found kind of another gear of how to compete." Bryant also shared the advice he was giving Russell during the game:
Kobe said Chris Paul "is cagey. You got to watch him...he'll pick your pocket before you even know it."— Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) December 26, 2015
Russell may not be in the role he wants, but at least Kobe is embracing a role as a veteran mentor, taking the rookie under his wing and helping build his confidence.