The former All-Star guard is having one of the worst series of recent memory. Is he able to turn it around to keep the Lakers alive?
The Los Angeles Lakers currently trail the Top seeded Denver Nuggets 0-3 after 2 very close games in the Mile High and a doomed from the start game in Los Angeles. Though many reasons can be pointed at why the Lakers are struggling against this Denver team, one very glaring issue has been the extremely poor play of D'Angelo Russell. Russell, who for the first two series against the Grizzlies and Warriors, was the Lakers 3rd leading scorer and actually their biggest X-Factor for the playoffs.
The Lakers are currently 6-1 in games where Russell has scored 17 points or over, that stat becomes even more glaring given the fact the Lakers have only won 8 games this postseason. So basically when Russell plays well, the team is winning. So what caused Russell to stoop so low this series vs the Nuggets where he is only averaging 7.0 points, 4.0 assists and only shooting 30% from the field and 12% from 3? Some of his play is self-inflicted. Some of it is the coaching staff of the Lakers. And then some of is the Nuggets game plan. So here are some of the reasons I am observing with Russell's play.
1. He's playing off the ball, like a lot.
One of the more true points of D'Angelo Russell's game is that he is a player who needs the ball to operate his best attributes and initiate the offense. One of the more better shooters out of the Pick and roll and mid range (even to this day he is Top 7 in field goal percentage out of the pick and roll). Ever since Game 4 of the series against Golden State, there has been a decrease in pick and roll action between Russell and Anthony Davis.
Not only that, but Russell is no longer initiating the offense for the Lakers as much. The ball is in the hands of LeBron James (warranted) and Dennis Schroder more than him, forcing Russell to be more off-ball than anything. And it's not just that he's off-ball, he's been buried in the corner without much movement or touches. Russell is a rhythm player, he most of the time cannot establish rhythm when he doesn't get a lot of touches.
2. Nuggets admitted he is their primary concern on both ends.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone after the first game of the series made it very clear the job was to try to limit D'Angelo Russell as much as they can - to the point where they are taking him out the game. It appears to have worked the last 3 games. Not making life easy for Russell on offense and even targeting him defensively. Though Russell is not giving up the most points on the Lakers so far (Reaves and Schroder currently are giving up the most), the Nuggets are actively seeking Russell out on defense as mentioned by Bruce Brown.
3. He seems either disinterested or very hesitant.
As said before, some of DLo's play has been self-inflicted. Just by observing D'Angelo Russell body language to start the games you can tell if he's going to have a good game or not. If he looks spry and bouncy, he is going to be aggressive hunting his shot, attacking the rim, and giving good effort defensively. When he looks disinterested or uninvolved, he is going to be standing around a lot, not giving near enough energy on both ends, and looks completely unplayable.
4. Hit a very bad cold stretch at a very bad time.
Bad stretches tend to happen in the game of basketball, it is nothing new to the sport. Every player tends to have them, even LeBron James. Russell has had his most efficient season of his 8 year career, shooting career highs in every shooting/finishing category playing for both the Lakers and Timberwolves. The hot shooting did cool off just a little bit in the playoffs but still had moderately good shooting games. However, he has reached a very bad stretch where nothing seems to be falling even on open shots and this right now would be a real bad time to hit a funk.
One thing you don't want however is for a player in a funk to stop shooting. Perhaps find ways to find a rhythm in game like get to the foul line or get some easy layups going.