Does D’Angelo Russell pass enough? It’s been a central topic of disagreement among fans and observers of the Los Angeles Lakers as he’s averaged 3.6 assists during his career so far. Russell’s assists per-36 minutes look a bit better (4.7 for his career and six this season), and he leads the Lakers this season in almost every single passing statistic publicly available, but the debate still rages on.
Russell is currently out with various injuries to his right leg, but It turns out that debate extends to the Lakers front office and other members of the organization. David Aldridge of NBA.com dropped a feature on the Lakers on Monday morning and the whole thing is worth a read for fans of the purple and gold, but one interesting nugget of his reporting stood out: The Lakers themselves aren’t quite sure Russell has found the right balance between passing and shooting just yet (emphasis mine):
The jury’s still out on Russell as a floor general and leader almost two years after the Lakers took him second overall in the 2015 Draft. He has a lot of work to do to build trust in his locker room (and this has nothing to do with the Nick Young business last season). (Now, Russell’s going to be slowed further by a sprained right knee.) His fearlessness and self-confidence is necessary in a league full of killer point guards, but he hasn’t accomplished enough yet on the floor to warrant it.
There is still a sense among some in the organization that Russell is still not getting the ball to teammates on time and is still looking too much for his own shot. He says he’s learning the importance of doing just that. He picks Luol Deng’s brain as the two sit together on the team plane about the dos and don’ts of the game.
Russell told Aldridge before his injury that he felt like he was starting to figure things out:
“Honestly, I’m slowly realizing, like, I don’t know, a routine,” Russell said. “A lot of times, we come out, the ball’s in my hands, and everybody’s looking for me to get guys going, not necessarily just going (myself). And then let everybody follow my lead. Hitting here, swinging it there, making sure he’s getting it, getting there. And then, if it doesn’t work, then everybody’s like, all right, now they’re looking at me instead of being the other way around, me just being aggressive from the gate.”
It’s important to remember that Russell is just 20 years old, in a second season that has been hampered by injuries after a first season that was essentially wasted by poor coaching and a Kobe Bryant farewell circus. Russell was additionally learning the point guard position at the NBA level after not having played it in college.
This isn’t to make excuses for Russell, but to offer explanations as to why his numbers may not be popping the way many fans would like. The organization isn’t wrong that Russell is occasionally too aggressive looking for his own shot.
The team’s offense is also four points per 100 possessions better when Russell is on the floor, skyrocketing from a rate that would rank 26th in the NBA (102 points per 100 possessions) while he is on the bench to one that would rank 14th (106).
Does Russell still have improvements to make as a player? Of course. Does he make the right decision about when to get the ball to his teammates every time? Of course not. Neither do most second-year point guards.
It’s not surprising the organization wants to see better playmaking from Russell, but it’s important to note that he hasn’t been all bad in that area, either.