D’Angelo Russell Primed for Breakout Season


D’Angelo Russell was selected 2nd overall in the 2015 Draft. Russell had a very productive 2014-2015 freshman season at Ohio State – he averaged 20.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.4 steals on 45.1% shooting in conference play. As just a true freshman, Russell was a consensus All-American, winner of the Jerry West Award, Wooden and USBWA Award finalist, and a Naismith Award semifinalist.

In the Big Ten, Russell was 9th in free throws (118) and offensive rating (115.7,) 8th in minutes (1188,) field goal percentage ( 44.9%,) and defensive rating (94.5,) 6th in defensive rebounds (163,) and steals (1.6,) 5th in win shares (6.8,) 3rd in box plus/minus (11.7,) PER (26.6,) and assists (5.0,) and 2nd in points (19.3,) threes (95,) and three point percentage (41.1%.) Russell was doing it all as just a freshman, and the Lakers saw this when they drafted him.

Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE / Getty Images
Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE / Getty Images

Critics of Russell believed that the Lakers should have selected Jahlil Okafor over him during the draft, and Kristaps Porzingis over him during the 2015-16 season. Some of the criticism was fair; the Lakers needed a center much more than another guard back then and even now, and Porzingis had a better rookie season than Russell did. Russell, however showed that he is going to be a very good player soon enough.

Russell averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game last season, which aren’t bad statistics in and of themselves, but the splits are even more impressive. In games he was given at least 30 minutes in (30 games,) Russell averaged 17.2 points in 34.0 minutes per game on 39.1% from the three point line. Without Kobe Bryant playing alongside him on the court, Russell averaged 18.7 points per 36 minutes (per The Ringer.)

Harry How / Getty Images
Harry How / Getty Images

As a teenager in the NBA, those are very impressive numbers. His overall efficiency needs to improve, but it will as Russell matures, and Luke Walton fixes the offensive deficiencies that occurred under Byron Scott. We have already seen an improvement in Russell’s efficiency and production this preseason.

In his preseason, Russell has averaged 20.2 points, 4.6 assists, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.8 steals on 50% shooting and 41% from three in just 29.8 minutes per game. Those are all-star level numbers. The one flaw one might point out is the low assist rate, but in Russell’s latest game, he put up a masterful 31 point – 11 assists performance against the Kings.

Russell has been playing very confidently. He has been hitting shots on the court from all over – in the post, off the dribble, and behind the three point line. He is looking like a super star, and this kind of play is sustainable with Russell’s great size at the point guard position (6’5″ and 195 pounds.)

Andrew D. Bernstein / Fox Sports
Andrew D. Bernstein / Fox Sports

D’Angelo Russell could very well be an all-star in the future. He is already proving to be an integral part of the Lakers’ core and future. He is still just 20 years old, and he has a lot of room to grow under his new coach with talent around him like Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Luol Deng, and Brandon Ingram.

As a guard in the Western Conference, Russell will have to compete against the likes of Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard and others for an all-star team selection, but none of them are as young as Russell, who has yet to reach his full potential.

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