clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

D'Angelo Russell proved it doesn't matter which guard position he starts at

Los Angeles’ young guard defied labels in a historic performance.

D'Angelo Russell sets a new career high against Cleveland

D'Angelo Russell made LA Lakers history with his scorching career-high 40 points. Sorry not sorry, Kyrie.

Posted by Silver Screen and Roll on Monday, March 20, 2017

For all the hemming and hawing about whether or not D’Angelo Russell is a true point guard (whatever that means), the modern game has at least in part rendered positional designations like that pointless.

Russell may have returned to the Los Angeles Lakers’ starting lineup as a nominal shooting guard, but his career-high 40 point, six assist performance in the Lakers’ 125-120 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers made it clear he can’t quite be pigeonholed.

"I’m a basketball player, not a point guard or a shooting guard,” Russell told reporters following the game (as transcribed by Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times), and he’s right. Whether he or Clarkson are playing “point guard” or “shooting guard” doesn’t make a huge difference in the modern game, or in the type of offense Lakers head coach Luke Walton runs with them on the floor.

Despite technically starting at shooting guard, Russell still used more possessions than any Laker, with 28.7 percent of the Lakers’ possessions ending in a shot, assist, or turnover from Russell.

Take this possession for example. Russell is handling the ball and takes a screen from Randle (which he often has when starting at “point guard”) while the Lakers’ actual “point guard” (in this case Jordan Clarkson) loops along the baseline towards the wing as Nick Young has this season when Russell is with the starters.

These two pick-and-rolls Russell runs with Ivica Zubac (in addition to being nearly identical to each other) look almost exactly the same as the stuff he was running while starting at “point guard,” just with Clarkson spacing the floor instead of Young:

So was Russell just playing “point guard” in the traditional sense then, dominating possessions? Nope. Even on this play, in which he’s the only traditional ball-handler on the floor, it’s Julius Randle bringing the ball down and setting up Russell for an open 3-pointer:

As Russell says, he’s a basketball player, and a versatile one at that. This season has shown he and the Lakers would be well-served by getting him a secondary ball-handler to play consistent minutes with so he can more often leverage the threat of his shooting in addition to his own skills as a creator.

The numbers have been famously bad defensively, but it sounds like the Lakers are going to give Clarkson the opportunity to be that guy with Russell in the starting lineup going forward, something Russell told reporters he thought was “dope.”

It certainly worked Sunday, allowing Russell to rack up all kinds of history:

All while impressing some of the best players in the league with his performance:

It probably wasn’t intentional, but notice that neither LeBron James or Kyrie Irving tried to pin a positional label on Russell.

Maybe the rest of us shouldn’t, either.

All stats per and Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Silver Screen & Roll Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Los Angeles Lakers news from Silver Screen & Roll