The Los Angeles Lakers’ young players weren’t really able to see any positives in their late-game collapse against the Washington Wizards Tuesday, but on his 37th birthday, head coach Luke Walton had the benefit of a bit more perspective.
Thus, Walton was still able to see one bright spot in the team’s defeat: The transcendent play of D’Angelo Russell, who he said has been “great” since being moved to the bench and then back into the starting lineup over the past several weeks.
"He was brilliant. Some of that passing he had, I told him early on we need to get the pace faster. It felt like we were walking around too much offensively, and I thought he did a good job of doing that,” Walton said after Russell put up 28 points, nine assists and six rebounds against the Wizards.
He didn’t even mind that Russell went 1-7 in the fourth quarter.
“Even with the fact that he missed some shots in the fourth, I don't care. Obviously I want the shots to go in, but he had good looks and we want him taking those. I thought he had a brilliant game tonight,” Walton continued. “He was active on defense, he was trying to tag cutters and do all the things we ask. Offensively he was getting what he wanted, he was making nice passes, he was talking to the bigs... He's been really good, and was really good again tonight.”
Walton specifically complimented Russell on doing a good job calling out opposing defensive coverages to the Lakers' big men, important stuff from a player that could be running the Lakers’ offense to at least some degree for the next several years.
Russell is far from a finished product, but nights like his game against the Wizards offer a tantalizing glimpse of just how special he can be when all of his talents come together. He’ll have to do so more frequently as he grows and develops, and it sounds like Walton is happy with the progress he’s seeing for now.
All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.