Don’t Fool Yourself, D’Angelo Russell is not Expendable

Darius Soriano —  May 18, 2017

You will not find a more divisive member of the Lakers today than D’Angelo Russell. Opinions of him run the spectrum of hot takes, with full throated endorsements and dissents colliding each day wherever you are. There’s not a single player who inspires as much debate, no, belief that they’ve pegged him not just for what he is, but what he will be as a player.

A quick example: This past Saturday I was checking into a hotel in the Bay Area and one of the employees who handles valet parking saw me rocking my Mitchell and Ness Lakers hat. He asked me if I was a “real” fan or not. I chuckled and said I was legit and then he peppered me with qualifiers — “Real like you’re nervous about the lottery on Tuesday?” Yes, I said. “Real like you didn’t want the Lakers to draft D’Angelo Russell?” — whoa there, buddy. “He’s got a terrible first step, doesn’t pass well…” I stopped him there.

This is how it is with Russell. Like an apparition, you either see it or you don’t. And no matter if you’re on the pro or con side, the person who doesn’t see it has instantly lost some credibility with you.

Fast forward to today and there are rumblings about Russell’s status with the Lakers. After the team retained their pick and the prospects of Lonzo Ball (or, in what would be a minor miracle, Markelle Fultz) becoming a Laker is now perfectly plausible, Russell’s name is starting to be muttered in the same sentence with words like expendable. The reasoning goes something like “who needs Russell now that you’re going to get Ball? Ball is the PG of the future, not Russell, trade him for someone better!”*

Full stop.

This is a mistake.

If you listen to the Laker Film Room Podcast that I co-host with our good buddy Pete Zayas (subscribe and rate!), a common theme we discuss is the type of player the Lakers should be trying to add to the roster. It’s pretty straight forward, we want players who can shoot, pass, and defend.

I don’t need to explain why these things matter — they are the key elements of basketball. Of course these three things aren’t the entire substance of a player — smarts, athleticism, competitiveness…they all matter too. But, if we can assume those other things are there at a reasonable level, give me as many players as you can who can do those three things at as high a level as possible.

Russell is not a good defender at this stage (though he made strides this past season and was not as bad as his general reputation would lead you to believe), but he is a good shooter and a very good passer. So, Russell checks off two of those three boxes.

Now, consider, this past season there were only eight players in the NBA who shot at least 35% on six or more 3 point field goal attempts per game while also tallying more than 4.5 assists per night with an assist percentage of 25% or higher. They’re names you’ll know quite well:

  • Steph Curry
  • Isaiah Thomas
  • Damian Lillard
  • Kyle Lowry
  • Mike Conley
  • Kyrie Irving
  • Kemba Walker
  • D’Angelo Russell

Besides Russell, Kyrie is the youngest player on that list and he’s a full 4 years older than Russell at 25 years old. Lillard is the least “experienced” player on this list, with this past year being his 5th season in the NBA. Russell just completed his 2nd season. In fact, if you search for players who have posted those stats in their 1st or 2nd seasons, the list only has one name: D’Angelo Russell only 4 players in history have done it: Lillard, Russell, Damon Stoudemire, and Van Exel (all of whom were at least 2 years older than Russell at the time).

In the system that Walton runs — where spacing and ball movement are at a premium, Russell showing strong ability in these areas make him a pretty important piece. This doesn’t make him infallible nor someone who’s not replaceable. That’s not the point of this at all. The point is, though, is that you want more of these players, not fewer of them. And, as it stands, even if you swap out Russell for a different player who also spaces the floor by making threes and is a very good passer who sets up his teammates, wouldn’t it be better to try to add that player to Russell? Again, you want as many of these players on your roster as possible.

Look, I get that Russell needs to improve. I could rattle off multiple areas where growth is needed — consistency, defense, shot/pass decision making, general attentiveness and engagement with the action. These things matter (some of them a lot) and, until he makes strides, his full and immense talent will not be truly optimized. I’m pretty sure he understands this too, though. And considering he just turned 21 this past February, I think he’s on his way to figuring out how to make the needed improvements.

And, if the Lakers are smart, they’re going to give him time to do just that. Even if that ends up being right next to the guy fans want him replaced by.

*I always laugh at the logic which says a team should trade a player that fans don’t like because they think he’s bad, with the expectation they will get someone better in return. If you think Russell sucks, what makes you think some other team is going to give you a better player for him? Is it because that team is stupid? Because you’re a better judge of talent then they are? I mean, come on.


Darius Soriano

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35 responses to Don’t Fool Yourself, D’Angelo Russell is not Expendable

  1. Truthfully drafting a PG allows Russell to play his natural position in shooting guard (played in Hs and college).

    He’s never been a PG even though he has great passing ability. Having him play off the ball and focus on shooting and creating for others when necessary would be beneficial for the kid.

    11+
  2. In the last thread I talked about players breaking out in their 4th or 5th year in the league. This is the patience mantra front office’s talk about.

    This thread is all about how exceptional Russell currently is, and he is only going into his 3rd year – after one year of college.

    We may be able to get quite a good player for Russell in a trade. This will be because the other GM will see Russell’s development and project that in only 2yrs he could have a player that will lead their team – a valuable commodity.

    What will be the comments on this blog then?

    13+
  3. Couldn’t say it any better. Lebron talked about having play makers on his team. It’s not about position. I would love to see a back court of Ball and Russell for the sole purpose that the ball will begin moving again! At the beginning of this past season, the ball was moving, we were scoring, the team was engaged, and the attentiveness on defense was evident.

    However, after the first 25 games, we hit a rough patch of injuries. The ball stopped moving, the players became more iso-centric, and the defense drastically deteriorated.

    The way I see it, we need to go in one of two ways.

    #1.
    Become the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, move the ball, be entertaining as hell, and outscore the opponent. Can anyone say Ball?
    #2.
    Get a point guard who is athletic, has a good first step, plays incredible defense, and decreases the amount of opposing guard penetration. Did anyone suggest Fox?

    Essentially, we need to be elite on offense or get better defensively. Seeing that we ranked 30th in team defensive efficiency (https://www.teamrankings.com/nba/stat/defensive-efficiency), it is glaringly obvious where we need to improve.

    Fans have a tendency to think about one side of the court, but the numbers don’t lie. We need to get better defensively, trade down and pick Fox.

    7+
    • Agree. Two-way players are always the gold-standard.

      One-way players are alright if they are so exceptional at their … way, that it obviously compensates. Nobody minds a Nash . . . as long as you’ve got a Michael Cooper to pick up the slack. Do the Lakers? Not really, not right now.

      What’s easier to teach a young player? Teach a jumper to an athletic defender/slasher? Or teach defense to an offensive-minded player? Who knows …

      2+
    • Also Fox is a better shooter than people give him credit for. Sure he hit the freshmen wall in college mid season but his last 10 games: averaged 19.6 points and shot 52.3% and 47.4% from 3 including a dismantling of Ball on both ends of the floor.

      7+
    • pezonessuculentas May 18, 2017 at 2:29 pm

      or just pick Jackson, who has a higher ceiling that Fox and Ball

      0
    • Sorry, but TERRIBLE idea. Name the last time a non-shooting defensive point guard did anything in the league ? Rondo’s been a black hole for years, requiring his team to score 4 on 5 in the halfcourt.

      Elfrid Payton – weak stuff.

      And DeAron Fox is not a shooter. He shot 25% from 3. Well, a little under. And he shot 47% from the floor, despite getting a huge amount of his buckets off transition, and open drives. Not a shooter. Not going to be a shooter.

      And by the way, point guard is the least important position in the game to be a strong defender, since you are invariably looking at getting switched off on screens, and having the ball get passed past you. That’s why you have Kyrie and Isaiah in the ECF, when they are two of the worst defenders in the league. It’s why Harden is an MVP even though he’s terrible on D. It’s why Steph was an MVP when he’s mediocre, at best, on D.

      You need D from your bigs, or at least one, and your wings. Great if you can get it from your point guard, but it’s not going to move the needle much for the team’s defense.

      What will do that is Ingram’s improvement. Some Corey Brewer in spurts. Possibly Paul George. Improvement from Russell. Eventually a better center.

      And by the way, Ball is a strong defender. Huge, longer reach than Fox, able to guard 1s and 2s, and with great smarts and anticipation.

      I can’t think of a worse move than to give up on a potential superstar and franchise point, and a guy who can transform an entire offense for over a decade, for a guy who’s basically a role player. Maybe he’s a Patrick Beverly plus.

      6+
      • Derek Fisher? Marginal shooter but good defender….good compliment to a ball dominant Kobe.

        0
  4. Russell’s 3 point shooting stats are legit, and the sky is the limit for him in that department. His assist numbers, however, do not tell an accurate story. In Luke’s fast paced high possession offense, coupled with Russell’s usage, his assist numbers are not good. Looking at assist to turnover ratio, a more accurate stat, he ranks 139th! He is a slightly above average passer for a SG……he is an awful passer for a PG. Add in his awful defense, and it becomes clear that he is in fact “expendable”.

    Shifting Russell to SG will help his game, but at the expense of Lonzo Ball’s game by forcing a 6’6 player to chase around smaller and quicker PGs every game. Both backcourt players do not get to the free throw line, and both players can’t slow down the opposing PGs. This is a recipe for disaster, and I am certain that Pelinka and Magic are aware of these issues.

    Russell is young and his scoring potential gives him solid trade value. It’s time to find, not necessarily a better player, but a better fit. If he can be packaged with a Deng or Mosgov….hallelujah! Trading Russell would not only potentially net a better fit to the team, it could also clear enough cap space to go after some serious reinforcements.

    4+
    • If we were to rid ourselves of Deng’s contract along with Russell, it might be a good idea. However, we do seem to continually wrap ourselves in a positional view of our team. In Luke’s system the PG should not be a ball-dominant scorer, but an excellent passer. It also doesn’t follow that the PG will be guarding the opponent’s PG. Team defense means that all players have to be able to stretch and adjust to most of the other team. It is a scheme, not a reliance on one-on-one positional spacing. Russell has been touted as a SG by many here. Fine, but that doesn’t define who he will guard.

      5+
      • I would have to have an upgrade at the position – just getting rid of Deng/Moz wouldn’t be enough.

        2+
    • Taking into account the lack of shooters, and even catchers on the Lakers squad, the immense difficulty of the pg position and Russell’s inexperience, I don’t see how anyone save a person who has already made up their mind about a player, could talk about an ‘accurate story’ with regards to his abilities.

      Too many people spend their time trying to justify preconceptions, versus accessing what is actually there.

      2+
    • I wouldn’t worry too much about assist to turnover ratio – Steph Curry is 61st among STARTING guards in the same offense – it has more to do with the ball movement than anything else.

      Assist percentage is an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor – Russell ranked 43rd among all guards last year. Not bad considering new coach/system.

      Yes, a “natural” PG would be a better fit, preferably one that is a lock-down defender, but I wouldn’t be so quick to move Russell – even if meant sitting on Deng/Moz.

      (min. 20 games on both stats)

      1+
    • At 21 years old he (DAR) averaged nearly 5 assists. MVP Steph Curry Average 5/6 asissts on a team with far more talented shot makers. How Many point guards average over 7 assists per game? and can shoot a basketball from 20+ feet? 1?2? 3 maybe.

      The “Lonzo chasing quicker point guards around” is baseless. He played PG in College who do you think he was chasing around? SF’s?

      Besides Chris Paul/Mike Conley, there aren’t many star point guards who play defense (lillard, kyrie, Isiaiah, Kemba, Lowryetc etc etc). John Wall got repetitively lit up by 5’9 IT4.

      Quit looking for a scapegoat as to why the team stinks and see it for what it is, most 21 year olds are bad at defense (more so if they are talented scorers).

      Draft Ball, Keep DLo and give them room to grow. Or trade for a quick fix, and end up like the Clippers, Grizzlies, Bulls, Pacers etc etc. There is no rush to be great because Lebron and the Warriors are not letting anybody win a ‘chip for at least 3 years.

      7+
  5. The Lakers need to listen to all offers and make sound decisions that will transfer over the next five plus years so they can again become one of the dominant teams in basketball. Unless your name is Lebron James, you are probably expendable under the right conditions. Moz & Deng are expendable because of their contracts and on court performance. Russell is not expendable, but might not be part of the long range plans.

    The Lakers have a number of issues to contend with in order to become NBA champs. Good teams start with good defense, something I doubt Russell will successfully acquire, at most he’ll be fun to watch most nights. Second, the team needs to get rid of bloated contracts and perhaps Russell and other are factored into a trade IF the right offer presents itself. Never say never. The young man has missed a lot of games since he came into the league with knee issues, what’s happening there? Can he play seventy plus games a year at this young age, because he will play fewer as he ages? Yes, it would be fun to watch him play with ether of the two NBA top draft picks, Fultz or Ball. Will that win championships?

    Summary, Is he going to have good health going forward, is he going to make a commitment to defense and is he going to show up at game time every night ready to play? Quite frankly, Id rather see Westbrook in the back court, make it happen. In the playoffs, it’s go good or go home. Magic has mentioned he wants certain types of players who have Lakers values, or something along those lines…does he have what it takes to be a Laker in Magic’s eyes? Time will tell.

    0
  6. Draft speculation is really heating up now. I thought this article had some interesting thoughts about Ball and he is fit with DLo. In watching some of Ball’s highlight vids, he does seem more athletic than DLo particularly when he’s on the break and he definitely has more hops. However, Ball doesn’t seem quick when he’s going one on one.

    https://theringer.com/2017-nba-draft-los-angeles-lakers-lonzo-ball-76ers-d9f529dc1437

    “Fit is going to be really important for Ball, and I’m not sure the current Lakers nucleus makes the most sense for his game. A backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Lonzo is going to get killed defensively, and the Lakers don’t really have much shot blocking up front to cover for them. If the Lakers are going to take Lonzo, they have to think long and hard about moving D’Angelo.”

    “I think the biggest problem with people’s view of Lonzo is they peg him as a ball-dominant guard in a spread pick-and-roll offense, and that’s not really his game. He’s not a great athlete in comparison to the classic drive-and-dish point guards and he wasn’t involved in that many ball screens at UCLA. Lonzo, to me, is more of a shooting guard who can stretch a defense out to 28-plus feet, grab boards, push the pace himself, and then take advantage of ball movement created by another point guard.”

    “Ball lacks shake as a ball handler, and his turbo button ain’t working. It looks like he’s about to blow by the defender, but he ends up going nowhere and flings out a pass instead of attempting what would’ve been an open layup for De’Aaron Fox. Breaking down a defender and getting a bucket isn’t Ball’s game.”

    “I’m pretty comfortable with Lonzo at no. 2, though I look at the draft more in tiers. To me, Fultz is far and away the best prospect available, and he’s in a tier of his own. He’s a guy you draft almost regardless of fit because he has the chance to be a superstar and his floor is that of a really good starter. I have Lonzo at the top of the second tier, but I don’t think there’s nearly as big of a difference between two and seven as there is between one and two.”

    “The problem for the Lakers is that none of the players available at no. 2 are really a great fit with their core. “

    1+
  7. Guys, Fox is quick and gets steals. But he is not a good defender yet. He makes lots of mistakes moving forward when he should be sliding or sprinting to beat the offensive player to the spot. He does not seem to have great instincts for reacting to his opponent either and might be slightly lightweight if his calling card is defense.

    Balls has potential as a defender, as does Russel. Pretty solid sized backcourt for switching defense.

    3+
  8. PG nor Gordon Hayward made all-NBA.

    You know what that could mean …

    0
  9. The Lakers would have to see a good package deal,freeing up cap space to trade Russell,who would have to be very highly valued by the other team. The odds against this happening are high

    1+
  10. RR, this is a response to your last post in the previous thread.
    ___

    RR: As always you are the voice of reason.

    Its not that I dislike Lonzo its that I fear pairing him with DAR is not a great fit and will ultimately lead to more roster uncertainty. I think there are equally talented alternatives that fit better going forward and actually provide roster stability.

    I listened to Wednesday’s K Brothers podcast and they mentioned something interesting. They both said they would have to think twice about turning down the Kings offer of the #5 and the #10 plus one of Hield/Cauley-Stein/Labissiere for the Lakers’ #2 pick. If I could be sure that Fox/Tatum was there at #5 I may make that deal

    5+
    • mattal, is there any credible evidence this Kings offer is on the table, or was it spun out of fairy dust by the K Bros?

      If real, it would certainly fit into the Warriors “strength in numbers” ethos.

      Except the Lakers ain’t the Warriors and I’d be surprised if Magic passes on Ball.

      0
      • R: I tried to find a media source for the K Bros proposed Kings offer but I could not. But here’s the thing that makes it somewhat credible: agents have said they will with hold their clients from working out for the Kings prior to the draft. If the Kings are confident about taking their top target at #2 that may be preferable to drafting lower and having to evaluate prospects solely by watching tape of them.

        2+
        • Interesting … speaks to the perceived awfulness of Sacto as a player destination if true.

          0
    • Imo, – If they are willing to do that, they either know something we don’t, or are once again doing something stupid.

      Either way I hope the Lakers keep away from any contact with that jinx of team.

      1+
  11. I just hope the Lakers don’t trade the pick for PG. Since he didn’t make the All-NBA team, that means Indiana will be more apt to trade him. I like all the top 4 prospects (right now imo it is Fultz, Ball, Jackson and Fox). Please just wait until 2018 to sign him.

    3+
  12. In a way Ingram and Russell are opposites in that Ingram’s game passes the eye test but then you look at the analytics that say Ingram had a disastrous rookie year. Russell doesn’t pass the “future star” eye test to me, but as Darius noted analytics suggest few players have been as effective at his age as Russell.

    5+
  13. I totally agree with you. Russell is the best player now. Any offer for him will need to bring an outstanding player. If the Lakers are smart as I think they are I would give Russell another after another off season conditioning. Last time I saw him he looks like he’s hit the weights big time. Hopefully he doesn’t ignore power and endurance conditioning as well. Then evaluate. I think he’s definitely a keeper.

    1+
  14. Basically it’s perception. If you looked at DARs numbers (and didn’t know it was him) and I told you he was a 20 year old guard that played only 25 mpg, you would be excited about the future.

    If I told you that he had a better PER thank Booker, higher win shares, higher ORPM and DRPM, and his counting stats per 36 minutes were also better, you would be doing fist bumps thinking about the future. His numbers are also better than Wiggins at same age.

    2+
  15. Glento Daniels May 18, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    I understand the upside of every.player, but I ‘ve seen enough of Russell and Randle either are leaders. They come across as average players not wanting it hard enough it’s time to move both of them, even if they become great players in 5 to 6 years so be it. I saw those guys lose in Summer League by 30 and regular season by 40. I have seen enough, that lay down and lose will not get it here in Lakersnation.

    0
  16. Renato Afonso May 19, 2017 at 1:20 am

    Despite all of Russell’s faults as a player, there’s no reason to trade him for another flawed player with less experience and a lot of uncertainty regarding his game. I would not draft Ball to play alongside Russell. As I see it the Lakers can:

    a) package Russell as a part of a larger trade to get rid of Deng’s contract or to bring an all-star to the Lakers (George, Hayward…)
    b) draft some other player that is not Ball, if they think said player will be better than Ball (Fultz to the Leprechauns is as terrible as it gets)
    c) trade down while remaining in the top 5 (Jackson, Tatum and Fox seem to be very good)

    0
  17. Don’t Mess up this recipe until its fully heated and ready.,Remember,NBA talent, for the most part of its history was based on the upside of a 4 year college players upside and potential in the pros.The problem with evaluating young players and comparing them to seasoned pros is simply time.A person’s Brain is not fully developed until 25 years of age. As a Father of 3 young males, I agree with this analysis.No way do we know how good DR is going to be some day. Save what we have until we are absolutely sure ,that it’s not what we want.We don’t have to hurry the rebuild ., and make a compulsive move. Add Ingredients for Free and superstars later for championships.Keep this young core together.

    5+
  18. From what I have seen so far, DAR is clearly the best player on the Lakers current roster. He is the only player capable of scoring 40 points in a game, from all three levels. (Clarkson can come close on extremely hot shooting nights such as he did late season against the Twolves, but that was mostly 3pt baskets, +OT). DLo’s post-up ability is rare at his position and adds a valuable weapon to the offense. His ball handling is above league average, even among PGs and he has the ability to pass to guys’ “shooting pocket” which is generally under-valued. As Walton has mentioned Russell has a bad habit of making flashy passes, that’s when TOs occur. But in terms of passing ability, he shows vision, ball placement and touch. He is not a naturally talented defender and needs lots of development in defensive awareness and scheme Intelligence. But, he possesses the size to be disruptive if he gets a handle on rotations and assignments. On both ends of the floor, it seems he wants to do what the coaches are asking; although it is taking some time for him to translate desire into execution. Overall, I have been impressed by his ability and remain encouraged by his development arc, “floor” to “ceiling” prospects and growing maturity (his maturity level at the start was basically Level Zero)

    I would not deem D’angelo “untradeable”, very few players are; but I believe it would be difficult, considering the Lakers assets, to find a player who offers equal or better current production AND upside, with a high floor, without giving up more than they get back.

    2+
  19. Rick in Seattle May 21, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Picking Ball at #2 is a little like starting over. Have we wasted 2 yrs trying to ‘develop’ Russell only to discover that he is not our pg of the future?

    Second concern is with Ball. He has flaws. What if he doesn’t work out either?

    Third concern is with a Ball–Russell backcourt. Very little defense!

    I would not be averse to trading down one tier, if that option exists, to get a player like Jackson, Tatum or Fox and in addition acquire an additional player or pick.

    0
  20. D’Lo is expendable but so is anyone really at some point in their NBA career. For the Lakers the issue is perceived value vs. potential coupled with the decision to wait and develop or do we win now? So, I would like to weigh in a bit. If the goal is to wait and develop then D’Lo is definitely a player to keep. His offensive versatility is really somewhat akin to James Harden and think how often OKC management must admit to themselves how they blew that one! Draft another great guard one who just happens to be named Lonzo and move D’Lo to SG and watch them both become All-Stars. And yeah you take Ball not Fox because do not let one game fool you. Fox cannot shoot he is going to be Beverly like but elite level defensively. But unless you have a bunch of offensive juggernauts to go with him he lets the other team become better on defense also because they will not have to guard him on the perimeter… so they will get to play 5 on 4 most times. Lonzo is a more balanced player great offensively and good on defense. Trust me he was banged up in the tourney and did not complain or make excuses but the hard fall and the dis-located thumb sustained in Game 1 hampered him. The way he rebounds means this guy is probably going to be a triple-double type guy… you take that guy no question. Don’t worry about Lavar because as Lonzo matures he will gravitate towards Magic and Luke more than Head Ball so his influence will wain as the kid becomes an full fledged adult.

    Now if you are trying to win now… that is a totally different story. Everyone and everything is open for negotiation. It has to be because this is no half-in or hedge my bets type of play. Paul George is one of the best players in the NBA top 25 right now and next year he will be even better. It takes 2 years to fully come back from the type of injury he had. Next year he will be back fully and my guess he will pressing to be back in the top 10 in terms of player rating…he is that good! So, no questioning this guys talent and what type of player/person he is … it is all there. The question is do you have the right pieces around him to realistically beat GS, SA & Houston? And the answer is probably no barring an explosion or leap into ascendancy by one of the “young guns” and a secondary acquisition of a top FA to go along with PG. Highly unlikely scenario due to the salary cap mess left by the previous management.

    Best Case: Is that we are able to retain most of our “young guns” and sign PG as a FA. this would be best case in terms of both player development to see what we really have and getting PG without letting go of any assests. But risky thing change and PG might re-assess his desires by then ala Durant and sign with someone other than the Lakers wanting to win a ring now!

    Reality: This is probably going to be a combo play of some sort. If the Lakers can trade for PG without giving up too much then its a no brainer. D’Lo is probably safe here but Randle is probably gone. The Lakers have to pay him so a decision finally has to be made on whether you keep him or move him. Package up Randle, Clarkson and late first round pick I’m good with that. Do not want to trade D’Lo but if we do then the pick comes off the table and all you get is Randle and Russell which coupled with Turner gives the Pacers a nice young core themselves to build on. Now you still have the assets to make additional moves to get that second scorer you are going to need to be a real threat. But the chances of doing this all in one season are unrealistic. Can PG really wait for another 2 to 3 seasons for the Lakers to be ready?

    0