Los Angeles Lakers point guard D'Angelo Russell has mostly roasted the competition through five preseason games. The sophomore guard has racked up 20.2 points per game (good for fifth in the league) while opponents have looked as frozen in place as the ice Russell frequently claims is running through his veins.
Russell's scintillating play has left observers and fans to wonder what his ceiling could eventually be. Is he the franchise point and multi-time All-Star some believe he’ll eventually grow into, or is all of this production mostly the result of a high usage rate against somewhat disinterested and/or undermanned teams?
His smooth and effortless style doesn’t offer up a ton of easy comparisons to other players throughout the NBA, but his head coach spoke about one pretty flattering comparison Russell himself has made after the team's morning practice in Las Vegas on Friday. I’m sure no one will overreact to this or anything (via Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News):
“He can shoot the heck out of the ball. He sees the game and definitely has a nice flash about him when he gets going,” Walton said. “I like that that’s how he sees himself. You want players to have confidence so why not make it the best point guard in the game right now and a player you see yourself being like?”
Even if Luke didn’t throw the comparison out there without being asked about it, it’s not completely insane to say there are similarities. When Russell is rolling like he was when he erupted for 31 points on 14 shots (including five three-pointers) and 11 assists against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night, his dominance can look as effortless as Curry’s.
31 points on 10/14 shooting (5/6 from deep) for D'Angelo Russell in @Lakers #NBApreseason action. pic.twitter.com/JGsigw79UY— NBA (@NBA) October 14, 2016
The main difference between Russell and the first unanimous MVP in NBA history to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals is that for Curry, there is basically no such thing as a bad shot. Russell, according to Walton, still isn’t perfect in that department:
“What I view as a good shot might differ from what he thinks is a good shot,” Walton said. “But pulling up from four feet behind the 3-point line before he passes the ball once is not a good shot. If he’s coming down in transition, it’s a drag and a guard goes under and he pulls up for a wide-open regular 3-point shot, I’m completely fine with that.”
Walton has encouraged Russell to continue shooting what he defines as “good shots” even when his jumper isn’t falling, but no young player can be expected to have perfect shot selection.
Russell is going to experience growing pains, and as long as he’s improving, he doesn’t have to be Stephen Curry. He just has to be the best possible version of D’Angelo Russell. So far during the preseason, it looks like that’s going to be a pretty good player in his own right.
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