Throughout the playoffs, the Lakers have relied upon a number of role players around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They’ve ridden the hot hand on a game-to-game basis and found much success doing so, which also is a credit to the roster’s willingness to take a backseat role at times when they don’t have it going.
D’Angelo Russell has been amongst those players as the postseason has rolled along. In many ways, he’s been the barometer of the Lakers as when he’s got it going, the Lakers are nearly unbeatable. When he doesn’t, the Lakers tend to struggle.
Through Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers are a perfect 7-0 when he scores more than 15 points and 0-6 when he fails to reach that threshold. In Tuesday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Russell was a non-factor, finishing with just 8 points on 4-11 shooting while missing all three of his 3-point attempts.
After the game, Nuggets head coach Mike Malone was asked about how he felt his team defended the role players. He specifically made mention of his team’s performance against Russell.
“Austin Reaves made two threes late,” Malone said. “I felt we did a great job on D’Angelo Russell — so great that he wasn’t even in the game much in the second half.”
Malone is now the second coach to specifically discuss an adjustment to take away Russell. In the Warriors series, at least part of the reason Steve Kerr inserted Gary Payton II into the starting lineup to slow down D’Lo.
When he’s making shots, the Lakers are a far more dangerous offensive team, as they have the spacing to complement LeBron James’ driving and Anthony Davis inside. When he’s missing shots, he loses a lot of his value, especially when he’s playing off the ball as much as he did in Game 1.
The discussion around Russell, though, hasn’t really been a productive one on social media during the playoffs. It’s likely due to the fact that he’s a $30-million player and thus has higher expectations, but he’s been a big factor in the Lakers winning a number of games this postseason.
The ceiling is high with D’Lo and the floor is low, essentially. We saw the floor in Game 1, but he’s just as capable of bouncing back in Game 2. Those words could very well come back to bite Malone later in this series.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.