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The audacity of D’Angelo Russell

D’Angelo Russell has found his game for the Lakers and seems intent on not losing it anytime soon.

Los Angeles Lakers v Golden State Warriors

I don’t really know when D’Angelo Russell stopped giving a s---, but I’m so happy he did.

Because only a player who stopped caring about the rumors, about the noise around his game, about his reputation around the league, about his perception amongst anyone who was not in the business of helping him become the best player he could be and, with that, helping his team be as good as possible would be playing the way Russell has of late.

Let’s flashback to Saturday night’s win over the Warriors for a moment.

With just under a minute left in double overtime and his Lakers down by two points, Russell received a long outlet pass and saw a bunch of open court in front of him while a couple of Warriors defenders with a head start on him sprinted back in transition defense towards the paint. Right before receiving the ball, a quick glance back showed LeBron James sprinting to fill the right lane next to him and you can see the wheels starting to turn in D-Lo’s head.

But let’s rewind just a bit further.

On the team’s four previous possessions, Russell had missed a highly contested layup, had a pass deflected and nearly stolen before ending up in the hands of Anthony Davis for a layup, and then committed back-to-back turnovers in which one pass was deflected in the same manner his previous pass on a possession earlier was and the other on a drive into no-man’s land where he simply ran out of real estate and had no choice but to try to force a pass into a small window that got picked off.

So now, on another critical possession, what should Russell do? Should he attack the paint and risk another empty possession? Should he slow the ball up and reset the team’s offense to run something in the half court? Should he just hand the ball off to LeBron and let him take over the possession? Most players who had just experienced the stretch of plays Russell did would probably find a way to be conservative, but is that what Russell did?


With the guile of a cat burglar in the middle of the day, Russell walked into one of his patented early offense 3-pointers that have been a staple of his hot-shooting January. If he considered anything else than that, you wouldn’t know it from watching any of the replays. In fact, if you slow down the tape, you can see him almost giddy at the chance to take this exact shot, a smile on his face at even the hint of a bit of open space, only to see that smile turn serious right as he goes into his shooting motion.

And as the ball goes right through the bottom of the net to give the Lakers a one-point lead, Russell skips up and down with a bit of understated exuberance before that Cheshire grin returns and he turns back up court to get back on defense. Russell did not point to the ice in his veins as he so famously did as a rookie, but if he did, no one would have blamed him.

After the game, Russell was asked about staying composed and his recent stretch of strong play when placed into the context of the “noise floating out there around his name” — i.e. him constantly being in trade rumors and his status on the team consistently being put into question. Russell, as he has more often of late both on and off the court, did not shrink from the moment and instead offered a certain defiance.

“I’m just trying to give the media new headlines,” Russell said. “You know, give them something new to talk about. Talk about trades and all that, you gotta talk about me making shots at some point. So, I just try to keep doing that.”

Again, this has been a recent trend for Russell. He has, seemingly, discarded any false pretenses about how he can best help the team on the court and, in turn, how to represent that idea in conversations with the media or, really, with anyone else for that matter — including his head coach — off of it.

Darvin Ham recently revealed he had an open and honest conversation with Russell in which both sides offered their perspectives on his role and how Russell could best help the team. This conversation was framed positively, but it felt clear from the manner in which Ham relayed the story that both sides did not necessarily agree with the other’s ideas in their entirety, but rather that it was simply good for both sides to express their thoughts on the matter without any filters. With that came a better understanding of each other and a clearing of the air.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

Additionally, it’s clear that the games Russell missed gave him a different vantage point of how the team was playing, what was missing while he was out, and how he could help when he came back. Russell explained what he saw and his newfound approach a recent win over the Blazers.

“Just being out, I seen us trying really hard to get LeBron and AD the ball, and you find yourself dribbling the ball off your foot or looking crazy trying to force it,” Russell said. “You have to be aggressive around these guys. You complement these guys by being aggressive, not passing to them. That’s easy to guard, you’re easy to guard when it’s like that. So just watching it, watching a lot of guys on the team make those decisions and when I came back, I was like ‘I’m going to be aggressive in those instances and I’ll see how it complements them.’ And it’s been complementing them so far.”

It all seems so backwards, but it also makes perfect sense.

In order to be a complementary cog, he must take on the mindset of a primary player. That to best help the team, he cannot always try to bring out the best in his superstar teammates; instead, he must turn the focus on himself. And that even though his best and most stable trait as a player might be his passing, it’s his shot-making and ability to take over stretches of a game by getting hot that is his real superpower that will best serve this team.

And, that ultimately, in order to show that he is invested in being the highest level contributor to the team, he must actually care less. About passing, about saying the right thing, about any of the relentless noise that may never stop regardless of how good he gets.

I don’t really know when D’Angelo Russell stopped giving a s---, but I’m so happy he did.

You can follow Darius on Twitter at @forumbluegold.

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