The last memory fans have of D'Angelo Russell is his poor performance in the playoffs, where he was ultimately benched in the final game of the season. Despite that low, the Lakers have demonstrated support for Russell by re-signing him to a two-year $37 million deal.
In preseason, he has looked sensational and his defensive focus has been a breath of fresh air, resulting in him averaging 1.3 steals a game.
D’Angelo Russell activity on defense from last night’s game —— UNO (@nowxuno) October 14, 2023
Roll the tape ️ pic.twitter.com/Rp4ysBFm7p
Head coach Darvin Ham has continued to sing D-Lo's praises all preseason long as a result, and did so again in Thursday's postgame media conference.
"I've been saying it since the summertime. I felt like he's going to have a big, big year," Ham said. "Just seeing the way he was attacking his body, just seeing the type of work he was putting in the gym – again, losing together brings you closer. He had a tough series against Denver, but it doesn't represent who he is as a basketball player.
"I know that type of thing, for a guy like him and the way he's programmed, that's more fuel for the fire as opposed to being ostracized. He has that chip on his shoulder. He wants to help us win. He wants to be in the mix of it, playing good basketball. That's what the preseason has shown so far. He's really hitting on all cylinders. He doesn't have to go out there and try to carry any unnecessary weight. He can just play within himself and be efficient, which he's done because of all of the pieces that are around him."
Ham has consistently stood up for his players. In his introductory press conference, he backed Russell Westbrook and insisted he could help the team despite media and fan skepticism. While I do not want to break down how much of that materialized during the Westbrook era, the early indications are that D-Lo is out to prove that his shortcomings against Denver are not an indictment on his ceiling as a player, but rather just a poor series for him.
A big season from Russell would mean the Lakers have stabilized their point guard position, a spot with multiple players in and out during the LeBron James era. That kind of chemistry and continuity would put the Lakers in a great position to raise banner No. 18, and Russell is certainly capable of it. He was an All-Star for the Brooklyn Nets and if he can produce like that in Los Angeles, the sky is the limit for the Lakers in 2024.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.