There was plenty of blame to go around after the Los Angeles Lakers' blowout loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday. The team allowed the Spurs to shoot 60.5 percent from the field while making nearly half (47.6 percent) of their threes. If the Lakers’ exploded offensively there is a (small) chance they could have kept pace, but they shot just 41.2 percent while only knocking down 31.6 percent of their triples.
It was the type of lethargic and listless performance that led Lakers head coach Luke Walton to call out his roster’s effort, criticizing his players for “[giving] up too quickly,” possibly because they felt overmatched.
D’Angelo Russell didn’t dispute Walton’s rebuke. The point guard took things a step further, and when speaking to the media after the game he blamed himself for the Lakers’ woes against the Spurs (Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News has the quote):
D'Angelo Russell providing some self criticism after Lakers' loss pic.twitter.com/wNq5WRU1e0— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) January 13, 2017
This isn’t the first time Russell has done so after a big loss this season.
“It’s always my fault,” Russell told Medina earlier this season. “Being the point of the defense and being on the ball and trying to make it tough for the next guard, I blame myself here.”
Russell’s self-flagellation isn’t entirely misplaced. He scored 9 points on 13 shots against San Antonio while doing little else to impact the game. The Lakers didn’t get off to a good start against the Spurs, posting a net rating of -73.3 during Russell’s minutes in the first quarter. While that’s not all Russell’s fault (the Spurs are great and the Lakers are, well, not), he certainly contributed to their inability to slow San Antonio early. He is right when he says he needs to get better.
That being said, while the Lakers are a horrible defensive team, they are only 0.1 points per 100 possessions worse during Russell’s minutes. He may not be positively impacting the defense, but he’s not the one completely driving it off of a cliff either.
Russell demonstrating maturity by putting the team’s struggles on himself is an important step in his development as a leader, but the other real lesson from the Lakers’ loss to the Spurs is how much better the whole team has to get on both ends.
The Spurs are the second-seed in the Western Conference for a reason, and the Lakers have a long way to go to reach their level. If Russell can channel his self-criticism into fixing his individual issues, it would go a long way towards bridging the gap between the two franchises over the next few seasons.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here, or listen to our thoughts on the loss to the Spurs below), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.