The Lakers’ Summer League Opener was everything fans could’ve hoped for. The team looked organized. Sets and general playing style was tailored for whoever was on the court. I didn’t want to walk down from the stands and try coaching the team, myself. It was really night-and-day from what we had to watch a year ago.
And lost in the Zubanity and Brandon Ingram’s debut, D’Angelo Russell put together a quiet double-double. He took over the game for one stretch and was the guiding force in the half-court with vastly more confidence than we saw for most of last season. There were some issues with his game, but he was impressive.
We’ll start with the few negatives I noticed. There weren’t many, but a couple things stood out to me.
First, his hands need to get stronger. There were several occasions where he had the ball stripped from him in various spots on the court that he probably shouldn’t have. It became fairly noticeable throughout the game, really. Now, he’s still very young and this is some of the first live basketball in this kind of setting for him in a month, so there might be explanations, but this is something I’ll be keep an eye out for.
Next, and this could also be explained by this being the first game of summer league, but it took Russell a little while to figure out which spots to attack and when to try to set up teammates. It’s the hardest part of playing point guard, especially for someone who can score as easily as Russell can against this level of defender, but there was a fairly obvious point in the game where he seemed to figure this out. When he did, was he dominant.
Which leads me to what he did well.
Offensively, when he wanted to score, he scored. He absolutely bullied guys in the post when he had to, either for an actual shot, or to set up the swing through that got him to the line. There was a moment in the game where I leaned over to the guy I was with and mentioned how quiet it felt like Russell was to that point. Then this happened:
He finished with 20 total points, 11 rebounds, six assists and five turnovers, which, overall, is a very solid game.
Defensively, Russell used his length to create issues. This was a trend from start to finish for the entire team, especially that starting five. Now, the obvious caveat is that the Pelicans aren’t a very good team, but there were stretches of the game where the defense was absolutely suffocating. We were fortunate enough to have seats a little closer to the court, and the angles we had showed very clearly how quickly passing lanes shut down, shooters were closed out to and how physically contested plays at the rim were. Russell did his part on that side of the court.
This is only one game, but it really says something that Russell would quietly represent himself as the best player on the court, even with the incredible excitement that surrounded the event. There are definitely things he can work on, but there is also a lot he can carry into the rest of this tournament, and into the regular season.