D'Angelo Russell is 6'5 with a wingspan that's nearly 7' long, giving him a lanky frame to punish smaller point guards in the league. It will take time for him to learn how to consistently use a size advantage he'll often find himself with, and he is still developing a physical profile to match his skills. Russell showed glimpses of how he can damage a team when he takes smaller players inside in the Los Angeles Lakers' victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, painting a picture of what's to come as he grows.
Russell's shooting touch comes and goes, and his mid-range game thrives around the left elbow but he's inconsistent elsewhere, but he's scoring at a very high clip once he gets close to the basket. D'Angelo has made 80 of the 139 attempts he's taken within 8' of the rim, according to NBA.com, shooting 57.6 percent once he gets inside. The challenge is finding ways to get inside against elite athletes and defense every night. That's where his size mismatch can become a crutch for his game.
D'Angelo's first made basket of the game came after he backed down 6'2 Toney Douglas, forcing his way into the paint before shooting over the top of him for an and-one. The sequence was initiated in Russell's hands above the break ... :
... but ended in the key:
Russell didn't put his head down and drive, instead backing down Douglas to get inside:
Russell should continue looking to find offense for himself in and around the paint. He's been very effective once he gets into the lane, as seen by his Shot Analytics chart:
Perhaps even more important is that Kobe Bryant has faith in Russell's ability to beat a defender once he gets down low. Russell noted during his postgame interview that Bryant called a post clearout for him and said the "best thing" is that Kobe trusts him.
It probably doesn't hurt Russell's confidence to have a legend calling his number for a post touch, as he does here:
D'Angelo didn't waste the opportunity, taking Norris Cole to work on the block. The move was beautiful, but even more important is that D'Angelo knew he had a mismatch and attacked it:
Russell's assault on Cole didn't stop there, either. The next scoring possession from the Lakers came from a similar sequence to how he attacked Douglas earlier in the game. D'Angelo had the ball above the break late in the shot clock and backed down the smaller Cole. Seeing him assert his size so consistently was impressive, with Cole looking like he had no chance in stopping Russell from getting where he wanted:
His ability to convert these plus-the-harm attempts is key in his development as a scorer. Russell is going to find himself with size and length advantages while he's playing as the point guard in lineups, giving the Lakers a chess piece to use in their offense. This isn't by accident, either. Russell's been working on the Lakers' assistant coaches and even credited Kobe for his growth in that area of his game, according to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.
It's nice to see proof in the pudding of D'Angelo's work payout on the floor. Adding a tool like this to his already impressive kit only makes him harder to gameplan against. The more chances Russell gets around the rim, the more comfortable he becomes attacking, the better finisher he becomes. This is one of the best ways to put the ball in his hands in an area he can draw a foul, score, or even both.
D'Angelo's size also comes in handy in pick-and-rolls. He already knows how to use his frame to keep his man behind him, allowing him to size up his options. Russell dropped in a clean floater over the top of 6'8 Dante Cunningham, making a quick decision after he beat his defender:
... isn't an easy shot to block. Yes, top tier point guards do this every game and it's just another play, but we're still learning how Russell's going to do the same himself. D'Angelo's been a capable finisher once he gets to his spots, and using his size to get inside attempts is one of the ways the Lakers need to continue generating points in the paint.
That D'Angelo is already good at using his length to finish around defenders, and has a dangerous floater, is for another breakdown coming to a Silver Screen and Roll near you.