After the Lakers victory against the Houston Rockets, much of the conversation was about the stellar performance of Austin Reaves and the second-quarter run the Lakers went on to blow the game wide open.
Yet, it was D’Angelo Russell’s defense that was consistent throughout the night and received praise from Anthony Davis.
“He had a little back-and-forth with Dillon Brooks that kind of got him going,” Davis said postgame. “We even talked about before the game that he wanted to guard him…He did a great job tonight. Deflection, steals, making the right plays. He took the challenge and knowing that a lot of teams have, in recent games, tried to call him up to get a switch and have him guard and he kind of took it personal and sat down and guarded tonight.”
D'Angelo Russell had some words for Dillon Brooks and the Rockets bench after the steal ️ pic.twitter.com/15wagAkwe5— Ahn Fire Digital (@AhnFireDigital) December 3, 2023
Davis giving Russell flowers for his defensive performance would’ve been hard to imagine in the summer after fans watched Russell relegated to the bench in the Western Conference Finals because he was as effective as a cone at stopping Denver Nuggets wings and guards.
Yet Russell has put in the work, did what players rarely do and improved a key aspect of his game late into his career.
Throughout training camp and early into the season, he was steadfast that defensive improvement was a focus for him, and it’s refreshing to see that it wasn’t just Russell talking the talk, he’s walked it through 21 games.
He’s not just back like he never left Russell is playing his best basketball ever in a Lakers uniform. And while he has had great scoring nights that have electrified the purple and gold, it’s his defensive improvement that makes a difference.
Russell may never be an elite point-of-attack defender, but if he’s serviceable against the top guards in the West like Steph Curry and De’Aaron Fox, that raises the Lakers ceiling and will make it a harder decision for general manager Rob Pelinka and the Lakers to move him in a possible trade.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.