I have many thoughts about D’Angelo Russell. Most of them good, some of them concerning, all of them pitted against the backdrop of his age, the direction the league is headed, and his current position on this specific version of the Lakers.
That’s a mouthful, I know.
In a shade under 4 weeks, Russell will turn 20 years old. In NBA years, he is a baby. And while he possesses a polished game, it sometimes only takes a light wipe to pull away some of that veneer and see all that he currently is not. And when playing for an organization that is not used to the types of lows currently experienced and in an era of instant gratification/reward seeking, the breaking down of what Russell isn’t has become a favorite pastime for some.
I am not completely exempt from this. I look at Russell and have concerns. He has a laid back demeanor that can, visually, influence how hard I think he’s playing — especially defensively. There are some bad habits I see nightly. Not running back hard on defense. Not defending with assertiveness. Relaxed hands when guarding on the ball. Lack of effort to fight on the glass when switching in the P&R. Not enough…well, effort. I see it.
Then I reflect. These are flaws, but they seem to be habits that can be broken. I watch guards who came into the league young and see where they are now and understand that the things I don’t like now are things which can be learned and executed as a career advances. I remember that he’s not yet even 20 and I know through good teaching and a want to be better, improvement comes over time. That doesn’t just apply to basketball.
I also see all the good in this kid’s game. All that skill. The ball handling — which could be tighter, but is still excellent. The shot making and pure stroke. The feel for passing and how defenses move. The ability to not only see the pass, but execute it on time and on target. The desire to lead. The recognition of the moment and the visual uptick in wanting to do more in games that are tight, late. And then I remember that he’s not yet even 20 and that through good teaching and a want to be better, improvement comes over time. And that, in this case, it does apply to basketball.