A very impactful player is being extremely undervalued even by his fanbase.
The Lakers and Rob Pelinka made big moves this off-season by adding a lot of quality players to their depth with players like Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince, Cam Reddish and Jaxson Hayes (with another big looming before training camp), but also brought back some key players in Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves and D'Angelo Russell. While these are some very good moves, many within the Lakers fanbase are very displeased with the fact that D'Angelo Russell was brought back.
The last time we saw D'Angelo Russell was when he was god awful during the Western Conference Finals against the eventual champions Denver Nuggets. Averaging a measly 6 points per game on 31% shooting. Eventually getting targeted on both ends of the floor and getting benched by Dennis Schroder (who also didn't provide much). This was left to the assumption that the Lakers will be looking to Austin Reaves more in place of Russell. But what if I told you, the Nuggets series was a myth?
First off, kudos to the Nuggets for gameplanning for DLo, throwing their 2 best perimeter defenders in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown on him from the jump. They made it extremely hard for Russell to get clean looks and singled him out defensively with both of them being physically stronger. It also didn't help that Darvin Ham threw out a 3 guard lineup that DID NOT work at all against the Nuggets. But if you're a Lakers fan, you must look at the bigger picture here. If Russell is truly "not a valuable option or going to be a top 3 option", why is it that other teams are planning to remove him from the game? Golden State tried it when they began starting Gary Payton II, didn't work. Memphis threw Dillon Brooks on him, didn't work. Teams know that Russell is the Lakers 3rd best player and perhaps their biggest X-Factor. That's no disrespect to Austin Reaves because he's developing well into his own. But if Russell is hot, it's pretty much a wrap for the other team.
Russell is coming off perhaps his best season ever as a pro outside of his 2019 All-Star Selection in Brooklyn. Averaging close to 18 points a game, 17 as a Laker, and shooting an outstanding 47% from the field and 41% from 3 as a Laker (39.6% overall). He brought a different style that the Lakers desperately needed at point guard and proved to be the best pick and roll partner for Anthony Davis. The Pick and Roll efficiency between Russell and Davis resulted in a 55% rate which was 3rd since the deadline only behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento.
Obviously that insane shooting didn't hold in the playoffs - as anyone would have stretches where they can't shoot perfectly against the same team over and over. A lot of fans tend to harp on his defense or lack there of, but if you actually see what the Lakers do with Russell defensively you would understand that he is not totally unplayable on defense. They use him as an off ball defender by putting him on the opposing player who doesn't move a lot on offense, this allows a player like Jarred Vanderbilt to be the POA Defender of the other teams best perimeter offensive player and let's Russell (and LeBron James) shout out instructions. Of course, Russell is not a great on ball defender and nor will he ever be. But there's a lot more to defense than one on one.
Over the summer, Russell has spent some time in China with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem where he looks to have gotten bulkier. We are in for a real treat if he comes back ready to prove doubters wrong.