D'Angelo Russell was removed from the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup in an early December game against the Toronto Raptors, and other than a brief stint starting in place of an injured Jordan Clarkson, Russell was a reserve ever since. Until this week that is, when Russell was reinserted into the starting lineup on Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks and again when the Lakers took on the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Russell has averaged 15.5 points, 6 assists, and 4.5 rebounds on 45.8 percent shooting in his two starts so far, and Lakers head coach Byron Scott has is among those impressed despite the team's two losses. Scott has already said Russell will start for the rest of the season, and at the team's practice on Thursday he explained to reporters why he believes his rookie point guard had earned a role on the first team (as captured by Shahan Ahmed of NBC LA):
"Every month, he gets better," Scott said about the no. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. "I think the game is slowing down for him. He's playing harder. He's playing much (more) under control. I think his game is not so much reliant on his three-point shooting now. He's getting to the basket more. He's taking the mid-range, so he's mixing it up more on that end of the floor."
Scott added about Russell, "You just see strides in him every month, which is a great sign."
Russell has played well, but Scott's assertion that it's because he is taking less threes is slightly off base. Since the All-Star break Russell is still taking 4 three-pointers per game as compared to 4.6 before. Russell is however, shooting 50 percent on threes since the break, while he was shooting 33.2 percent before. Scott is right that the decrease in those threes has been redistributed to the rim, where Russell is now taking 31 percent of his shots (24.1 percent pre All-Star).
While Russell is an okay mid-range shooter (38 percent on the year per NBA.com), if he is shooting 34.2 percent on three-pointers, it would make more sense for him to not increase his mid-range attempts at the expense of his long-range ones, especially if the NBA continues to give players an extra point for stepping outside of the arc. Even so, Scott praising his young point guard has not been incredibly common this season, so it's still nice to see that Russell's improvement has been recognized by his coach.
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.