In the moments after D’Angelo Russell airballed what would have been a game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer against the Utah Jazz, one fan amongst the throng of them at Staples Center decided to let press row know about his dissatisfaction with the sophomore guard’s play.
"Hey, what are you writing? That Russell sucks?” the fan yelled. “That the Lakers should've taken Okafor?"
Even in light of Russell’s poor shooting night, no, that wasn’t what anyone on that row was writing. Russell scored just four points on 11 shots against the Jazz, but despite that, Luke Walton wasn’t regretting his point guard’s output either.
“I thought D’Angelo played really good last night, honestly,” Walton told Joey Ramirez of Lakers.com and the rest of the media after the team’s Wednesday practice. Defensively, he was more active than he’s been. He was talking out switches. He was fighting offensively. He had more of a push to his game as far as trying to set the tone and pace that we wanted to play with.”
Russell shot just 7-24 from the field over the Lakers’ last two games, but the Lakers’ have still been better with him on the floor, outscoring their opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions while Russell plays during that span (the second-best margin on the team). They’ve felt his absence most on offense over those two games, scoring just 102.2 points per 100 possessions when he sits versus 115.4 when he plays.
Some of that could be due to the way Russell pushes the Lakers to the pace Walton wants, and Russell is also getting the team into their offense and keeping the ball moving (the Lakers assisted on just 33.1 percent of their own baskets while Russell was off the floor over the last two games, the lowest rate on the team).
Both are probably reasons why Walton isn’t super concerned that Russell isn’t shooting as well as most would like (again via Lakers.com).
“If it was me missing like that, I’d be very worried about it,” Walton joked. “For someone that actually has some shooting touch like that, he’ll be fine.”
Russell is a sophomore point guard who is finding other ways to affect the game while his shot isn’t falling. Some in Staples or on social media might be showing impatience with his development, but there are plenty of reasons to be confident he’ll be a special player when he can put everything together at once.