No. 1: D'Angelo Russell
Average Rank: 1.6
Finally, we have reached the top spot on Lakers Rank and it should come as no surprise that D'Angelo Russell is No. 1 (literally, he wears No. 1). Russell had an underwhelming rookie season in comparison to some of his peers, but he displayed his overall skillset well down the stretch of the season and will look to make a huge leap in Year 2.
Russell appeared in 80 games but only started 48 thanks to a certain individual who shall not be named. In the beginning of the season, Russell struggled to get acclimated to the game and his varying teammates as he was juggled in, out, in and eventually out of the starting lineup. In February, Russell went on a tear and forced that same certain individual who shall not be named to give him the starting job for the rest of the season.
Here's a look at Russell's numbers from last year as a starter and off the bench:
The numbers aren't all that different (except for a small uptick in points and three-point percentage), which leads to the following question: Did bringing D'Angelo Russell off the bench significantly do anything for his development? The benching tactic seems like a complete waste of time (and it probably was) given that Russell performed at similar levels in both roles. It was a pointless exercise that didn't add anything for the young player and probably hurt his confidence, something Russell thrives on. A player's ability doesn't change whether he comes off the bench or starts and it took that certain individual who shall not be named 54 games to realize that.
Luckily for Russell (and Lakers fans), there won't be petty mind games anymore. New head coach Luke Walton will run a system that will be in tune with Russell's skillset. The point guard has excellent court vision to go with a smooth outside shot and will have the opportunity to display both in a new offense.
Russell's assist numbers were down and that can be attributed to two factors: not great teammates and Kobe taking shots left and right. It's hard to rack up the assists when your teammates don't finish easy opportunities and Kobe shoots at a 36 percent clip from the field.
Once again, Russell won't have to deal with either factor. Kobe has retired and the supporting cast has improved. The Lakers won't be winning a lot of games, but they'll be putting NBA-level players on the floor with Russell. Expect his assist numbers to go up significantly. Russell will also get more shooting reps because there will be more shots to go around with Kobe's retirement. That should help his shooting efficiency and make him a complete offensive threat.
Russell does need to improve in two areas: Defense and turnovers. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Russell had a defensive rating of 112. That needs to go up if Russell wants to reach superstar levels. James Harden, a player Russell has been compared to, had a defensive rating of 108. Russell doesn't have to improve much, but he does have to improve. It's also fair to note that team defense and various factors attribute to that lone individual defensive rating number, but there's definite improvement to be had.
Another area where Russell struggled was turnovers. He averaged 2.5 turnovers per game, which was the 20th most by a point guard and 34th among all qualified players. Russell will have to be better at not only handling the ball, but also making better passes. Russell and Harden are similar in this regard as well. The Houston shooting guard averaged 4.6 turnovers per game with an assist/turnover ratio of 1.64. Russell had an assist/turnover ratio of 1.36.
I'm not saying Russell is going to become Harden but the promising youngster is on his way there. Expect Russell to fill up the stat sheet this coming season:
Can Russell hit these numbers? Absolutely. He has all the tools and the perfect environment to take off. Russell had an offensive rating of 96 last year, so this line would represent a massive improvement. The Lakers might not be winning a lot of games even if he cranks of his production, but Russell will prove he is the franchise cornerstone and likely have a Most Improved Player award to go along with it.