D’Angelo Russell’s rookie season had more downs than ups, to be sure. There was a rough start to the year as he adjusted to the NBA, a benching, and a leaked video scandal intermixed with some promising moments as well.
In an interview with Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders, Russell outlined what he’s been working on this summer to make those moments of promise a lot more frequent in 2016. In addition to praising the team’s offseason addition and chemistry, Russell told Maroney he’s been working on his "consistency on jump-shots, floaters and finishing around the rim."
How is Russell working on those skills? Well, in addition to (most likely) just by practicing them, it also sounds like the Lakers have been focused on making sure Russell adds strength to the right parts of his body to aid him on the court.
Lakers trainer Tim DiFrancesco outlined the specific training regimens of each member of the Lakers’ young core to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, and here’s what he had to say about what Russell was working on:
Specifically, we wanted to develop D’Angelo’s lower body strength, balance and explosiveness, while also taking advantage of his frame being longer and bigger than other guards. We wanted to add some lean muscle to his frame, as we started last year. We definitely saw progress there. His ability to endure certain weights, rep counts and exercises improved significantly.
All of those areas sounds like they will aid Russell in improving the aspects of his game that he outlined to Maroney. Russell was actually not bad around the rim last season, shooting a slightly-below league average 54.5 percent right at the cup. It was the portions right on the border of that where he arguably struggled most:
Russell was okay in the area directly to the left of the basket, which makes sense given that it’s his dominant hand. On the right and towards the middle of that shorter mid-range zone, however, he was an unmitigated disaster.
The Lakers unimaginative offense and lack of floor-spacing certainly didn’t help, but Russell simply wasn’t good from these parts of the floor. The good news for Lakers fans is that a competent floater would be the exact antidote to Russell’s issues in those areas.
Part of Russell improving his ability to finish around the rim will come from utilizing the length DiFrancesco cited, as well as his added muscle allowing him to better finish through contact in the paint. The threat of the floater could also force rim protectors to monitor him more closely in those in-between areas rather than concede a floater, tighter coverage that could offer Russell an opportunity to blow by them.
Russell also mentioned that he was attempting to make his jump shot more consistent, a necessary change if he wants to improve his percentages from behind the arc. Russell’s motion didn’t look consistent to start last year as he adjusted to the further NBA three.
Rather than adding unnatural hitches to his jump shot to make sure he doesn’t air ball, more lower-body strength can aid Russell with developing the type of repeatable jumper that would allow him to return to the type of deadly long-range shooting he flashed in college.
There's certainly no guarantee he will, but if Russell is able to put those three things together at once? He'll be immediately more dangerous in pick-and-rolls and isolation, in addition to becoming a threatening player without the ball in his hands. Combined with more opportunities on a slightly better team in a competent offense, Russell would be primed to show a ton of growth compared to last season.
Brandon Ingram said on Wednesday that he thought Russell could be in for a "breakout" campaign. Russell still has tons of room to grow (especially on defense), but if the upgrades he mentioned actually stick, then Ingram’s prediction could prove to be far more prescient than anyone expected.