When D'Angelo Russell struggled out of the gates of his NBA career, averaging 10.7 points on 40.8% shooting with 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists in November, many were quick to take to social media to call him a bust or declare that the Los Angeles Lakers front office had made the wrong pick. But Russell has bounced back a bit of late, scoring 13.3 points on 45.6% shooting in January, and he was announced as one of two Lakers (along with Jordan Clarkson) that will participate in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend.
Still, some continue to argue that the Lakers should have taken a "safer" big man like Kristaps Porzingis or Jahlil Okafor. Bill Simmons, the former ESPN and Grantland writer, now of HBO, is not one of those people. In his podcast with Charles Barkley on Wednesday, Simmons argued that the Lakers might have made the right choice when they went with a guard instead of a big man.
"You could argue that [the Lakers selecting Russell] was a great pick, because the way the league is going, you can't play more than one big guy at the same time," Simmons told Barkley during a discussion of the Philadelphia 76ers big heavy roster. "The whole league has shifted [towards small-ball]."
Simmons is right that league-wide trends have shifted, with more and more teams valuing floor spacing ability and athleticism in a big man far more than post-up skills as pick-and-rolls continue to increase in frequency league wide. That is the set D'Angelo Russell is clearly most comfortable in, and if he continues to develop going forward into the superstar the Lakers hope he can be, more fans and pundits alike will be echoing Simmons' words.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.