D'Angelo Russell's box score line of 12 points on 4-12 shooting to go with 3 turnovers and 2 steals in 24 minutes in the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night was not particularly impressive. However, the way the guard looked like clearly the go-to player on the team at points during the fourth quarter was, as well as serving as a vision of the Lakers' hoped for future, if one squints hard enough.
Russell went 2-5 from the field in the final period, but was benched for the final 2:31 seconds of the game. The reason? He seemed too confident. Seriously.
"I love the fact that he has confidence," Lakers head coach Byron Scott began innocently enough, as transcribed by Bill Oram of the O.C. Register. Unfortunately, as has been the case following light praise far too often this season, a but was coming.
"When it gets to the point that it's cockiness, then we have a problem," continued Scott. "I think he's pretty close." The coach continued on to say that he doesn't believe Russell has reached that point, but his reasoning and criticism still make little sense in the context of the game.
Russell was not forcing his shot out of overconfidence, cockiness, a desire to be "the man," or whatever intangible Scott wants to blame it on. Of Russell's five fourth quarter attempts, only one appeared to be a forced look upon review. The Lakers real issue is their unimaginative offense far too frequently requiring bailouts to generate points:
Russell's first look of the period came with 2 seconds left on the shot clock after an initial pick-and-pop/roll with Larry Nance, Jr. and Tarik Black went nowhere, forcing Russell to come back and get the ball. Russell surveyed the defense, ended up going away from another ball screen from the tireless Tarik, and then had to let a shot fly. Is that on Russell being overconfident, or on the Lakers running out of time due to good defense from Dallas? I would lean towards the second option.
Russell's second shot in the fourth is the only one that could reasonably chalked up to overconfidence, when he tried to create a fall-away jumper against Wesley Matthews with nine seconds left on the shot clock. But it isn't like stellar off ball movement from the Lakers gave him a ton of choices when he didn't initially beat Matthews, either.
The Mavericks left Russell wide open on his third attempt of the fourth, an excellent look that he simply missed. Hard to call that "cockiness."
Another possession, another instance off Russell not getting the ball until half of the shot clock had been used up and he had to make something happen. This time he came through, jetting around a screen from Julius Randle before using a ball-fake and then protecting the ball with his body to finish a contested layup.
Russell again got the ball with just 12 seconds left on the shot clock. Then, he and his teammates were visibly confused at how to handle Dallas' zone, with Jordan Clarkson even throwing up his hands in the confusion on the left wing as Russell dribbled. More seconds tick down, until there were just seven left, and Russell took a three-pointer when Chandler Parsons gave him a modicum of space. Not a great shot, but also basically impossible to blame on overconfidence from Russell.
Other than the second shot, none of those looks appeared egregiously selfish, and even that one was arguable. The much larger issue was the time consuming sets leading to nowhere, a consistent problem throughout the entire Lakers' season.
After the game, Russell revealed that even he is starting to realize that he is dealing with a head coach who primarily bases his decisions and evaluations on outcomes, rather than the process with which those results were achieved:
D'Angelo Russell on Byron benching him for trying to take over the game: "I don't know if he would've said that if I was making those shots"— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) January 27, 2016
He's not wrong. The ball is not "sticking" because Russell is trying to "make the big shots," as Scott alluded after the game. Russell is being forced to try and make big shots because more often than not the ball has nowhere to move.
Calling the Lakers' offense vanilla is a disservice to vanilla. At least vanilla, while boring to compared to other types of ice cream, is still ICE CREAM. The Lakers' offense is pureed broccoli. If Russell can't make a good meal out of that, is that on him, or the man who gave him the recipe?
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.