One of the more interesting training camp battles heading into the preseason for the Lakers appears to be over before it even started.
The signing of Gabe Vincent this offseason and the poor finish to the playoffs from D’Angelo Russell seemed to place the role of starting point guard in flux heading into the season.
However, during Thursday’s media availability for both head coach Darvin Ham and vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka — who had a trademark wild analogy involving D’Lo — the former ended any debate and announced D’Lo as the starting point guard.
“He’s been great with his communication all summer,” Ham said, “especially when he’s gotten back in the market around the guys. Just seeing him in workouts, seeing him in little pickup games, how he’s talking; he’s vocal, he’s encouraging the new guys, he’s talking through things with Bron and AD, they had a couple of workouts together just the three of those guys... A lot was made about the way things finished against Denver and whatnot, but at the end of the day, we don’t get to where we got to without D’Angelo Russell.
“I’ll give you one, Dan (Woike, who asked about starters earlier): He’s our starting point guard. He’s our starting point guard. And I’m going to encourage him to be assertive, he’s a highly, highly intelligent basketball player, one that is coming back with sort of a chip on his shoulder because he chose us, we believe in him, and he’s one of those guys that has a ton of pride and passion about not only his individual performance, but those of his teammates as well. He’s one of the biggest supporters of his teammates. So I look for all of that in DLo, and I think he’s another one that’s going to have an outstanding season.”
In a world of “What have you done for me lately?” D’Lo has had to endure a summer of questions about his game and fit with the Lakers after a fairly awful showing against the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals. By the end of the series, Russell was benched with the Lakers facing a must-win scenario.
But, at the same time, Russell was a difference-maker in a number of games in the playoffs leading up to the Nuggets series. In both the Grizzlies and Warriors series, Russell had huge games, shots and performances to help the Lakers to wins.
The microscope is bigger on him for a variety of reasons, fair and not, and it’s led to a lot of criticism. Ultimately, D’Lo had a big role in the Lakers getting to the playoffs and winning games in them. Removing him as the starter over one series, a series in which few Lakers played well, would feel harsh.
In 99 minutes in the regular season, D’Lo, Austin Reaves, LeBron James and Anthony Davis had a net rating of +25.6. In the playoffs, that quartet played 306 minutes and had a more reasonable net rating of +5.0. They were a successful group largely no matter who was around them.
It’ll certainly be a storyline worth monitoring into the season and being a starter in Game 1 does not mean he’ll be a starter in Game 82. But it does mean he has a head start and a chance to continue to prove himself alongside LeBron, AD, Reaves and in the starting lineup.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.