The Los Angeles Lakers currently rank as the league’s worst defensive team. D’Angelo Russell obviously isn’t solely to blame for that ineptitude, but he certainly isn’t doing anyone any favors on that side of the court, including himself.
According to Serena Winters of Lakers Nation, he wants to change that.
For context, the Lakers as a team boast a 111.1 defensive rating. When Russell plays, that jumps to a slightly worse to 112.8, and when he sits, that drops to 109.6.
Young players tend to overvalue how much they can help their team offensively, especially in comparison to their defensive impact on any game. Even worse, when their offense isn’t there, the defensive effort tends to wane.
Eventually, players learn that defense can actually ignite offense.
Just consider Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Wizards. At their best (that amazing third quarter), the Lakers were getting stops, leading to transition of semi-transition looks with Washington’s defense unset. 15-for-15 stretches are obviously an abberation, but when the tempo slowed, so did the Lakers’ scoring.
Here’s how Russell put it after the game. He might have a future in analysis.
"We were making shots, we were getting stops, and then we stopped making shots and getting stops."
In essence, when Tyler Ennis took over point guard duties and insisted on slowing the game down (tank you very much), the Wizards got to face a Lakers defense — usually bad enough in the best of situations — in the weakened state resulting from not getting set up after a bucket.
This is obviously all pretty straightforward in the impact defense has on the team, but for an individual player, especially one who struggles with consistency as Russell does, defense can get even the slowest night going.
A point guard’s job is tough enough on any given night in the NBA. Juggling their own offensive output along with maintaining rhythm for everyone on the court is a ridiculously difficult task.
Successfully doing so when the other team is scoring and getting set up defensively is basically impossible.
The obvious thing most people think about when it comes to individual defense is not allowing a player’s assignment to score. Next probably comes getting steals, blocks or rebounds. But something as simple as getting in proper rotational position so as not to allow the easiest pass or shot available can be just as important.
This is where watching the Lakers play defense can get so frustrating.
Here’s what I’m talking about. Look at everyone other than David Nwaba on the court.
Ennis closed out too far to the top side.
Tarik Black is standing straight up and down one pass away.
Larry Nance Jr. (the first layer of help) allows himself to get sealed.
Russell (the second) is standing in the corner seemingly with a hand in his back pocket.
This is not good; and the result, a layup for noted freak athlete Bojan Bogdanovic, should not shock anyone. Oh, and if you’re wondering, there’s plenty more defensive possessions where this came from.
Either Black or Nance would then inbound to Ennis the ball after getting it from the bottom of the net. Ennis would then walk the ball up the court, and the run Washington used to get back into — and eventually win — the game would continue.
The other factor in Russell needing to prioritizing defense is that the Lakers will probably (read: hopefully) wind up with another top-three pick. All signs are pointing to Magic Johnson preferring Lonzo Ball, though it is ridiculously early in that process.
If Ball winds up alongside Russell in the Lakers’ backcourt next season, the Lakers might not get a single stop all year. Ball is a capable defender right now, but that doesn’t usually (read: almost never) carry over in a rookie’s first year. Russell will need to improve just to make that backcourt not laughably bad.
Convincing people that Russell’s been good in his second year is usually a fool’s errand. Most have made up their mind on him. Anytime his offensive statistics are tweeted out, the response is pretty easy to predict.
“Ya shore but your ignoring defence,” yell the egg avatars.
To a certain extent they have a point. A point that Russell is interested in proving wrong sooner rather than later.