As part of a new series here at Forum Blue & Gold, we’re examining a single skill to keep an eye on with players this season. It could be their best quality or an aspect of their game that, if successful, will help the most. The two sound similar, but aren’t exactly the same. For this part of the series, I’m looking at D’Angelo Russell’s pull-up jumper.
D’Angelo Russell’s greatest talent is arguably his passing. He sees the court insanely well and can pull off passing angles few would even consider. That being said, whether or not Russell can develop a consistent shot to keep defenses honest will go a long way in opening up those passing lanes.
To a certain extent I liken it to how Kobe Bryant would guard Rajon Rondo in those classic match ups and playoff series from 2008-10. When guards would defend Rondo with more standard tendencies (going over the top of screens, sticking to his hip, etc.) Rondo would regularly torch them. So, Phil Jackson employed Kobe as more of a general shadow, simply staying in front and daring Rondo to shoot. The strategy changed what the Celtics were trying to do, and was the best way to manage such a supremely talented ball-handler. The video below is great at displaying this technique.
Now, is Russell’s shot anywhere near as broken as Rondo’s? Nope. Not remotely so. But it definitely became an issue in the Las Vegas Summer League where, for whatever reason, his shot simply wasn’t falling. I’m not going to read too deeply into a handful of exhibition games where rhythm is always tough to come by for rookies, especially. Russell was a pretty good shooter (.449 FG%, .411 3P%, .756 FT%) in his lone season at Ohio State shooting many of the shots he can anticipate this season.
A couple minor tweaks could help, too.
First, if you’ll allow me to nerd out as the shooting coach I was once, Russell’s backspin isn’t completely true. Whereas you’d like to see the ball spin right over the top, Russell’s shot spins with a slight lean to the left. He’s left-handed, so this makes some sense and is generally a pretty easy fix. What this means, though, is any contact with the rim will have a slightly different and tougher-to-predict bounce than you’d idealistically like to see.
If I really nerd out, when you watch his shot, the ball travels through the right side of his body and on his release, he flicks his right thumb behind the ball, giving it that slight side spin. Fast forward to the 40-second mark on a catch-and-shoot three he makes and you’ll be able to see some of those minor tendencies.
Keeping his right thumb behind the ball is a popular move from young players hoping to add some range. As Russell becomes stronger, this issue can almost fix itself. Freeing up that right hand will go a long way in aiding rhythm off the dribble, as will simply playing in the NBA for more than five games with a bunch of guys he’s never played with before.
The options while running the pick-and-roll become limitless as this shot develops. Defenders have to stay joined at the hip or else risk giving up two points with a poorly-contested jumper. As he comes off the screen, any kind of fake getting ready for the shot has to be reacted to, and creates space for other options. His passing also benefits greatly as the spacing becomes more and more open, increasing the margin for error with pocket passes back to the screener or whipping the ball to any teammate as the defense is forced to react to Russell’s own shooting opportunity.
Failing to develop this shot consistently, though, will seriously hurt the Lakers’ chances at running the pick-and-roll at peak efficiency – something they’ll absolutely need in Byron Scott’s offense. Fortunately, however, Russell will share the backcourt with someone who could very easily handle more of the creating responsibilities in Jordan Clarkson, if the former doesn’t develop a consistent enough pull-up jumper.
Russell’s understanding of the game is such that he could very easily slide into more of the shooting guard role, especially seeing as he played a lot of that position at Ohio State. So, although as I described he could greatly aid the team and his own individual game as his shot improves, there are still ways to effectively use him on the court.
Still, though, it goes without saying how vital shooting has become in the NBA. Just ask the aforementioned Rondo, who’s gone from a widely-considered elite point guard to a reclamation project for the Sacramento Kings.
I can’t preach more on what Russell needs improvement in the most and it’s not his jump shot, it’s his right hand. Russell’s jump shot is probably the best in the 2015 draft if you really think about it. I say that because there’s no other player in this draft that is willing to take the type of risks Russell will once he recognizes that he’s hot in game. You can tell he he has the killer instinct in him. But he really has to improve on that right hand, I’ve noticed he never uses his right hand for a layup or a floater when driving right. thats a problem on the next level, that might be the only thing he needs improvement on.
It seems like people have zeroed in only on Russell’s passing, while ignoring the fact that he was possibly the best shooter in college basketball last year. A 41% clip is extremely impressive when the nature of those shots is taken into account. Russell had the ball in his hand constantly at Ohio, and thus a large portion of his shots were off the dribble and contested. Despite this he managed to score consistently and maintain an efficient percentage.
All this to say, his shooting is going to be fine.
Yeah a sample size of a few games doesn’t say much. Especially if his legs were tired from Byron Scott’s long practices. His body will adjust and he will find a rhythm. He has a lot of holes (like most rookies), but I am not really concerned yet. The biggest thing was supposed to be his defense and he looked fine on the ball (and again like a rookie off the ball. Team defense is something he should learn if he wants it).
Nice write-up – enjoyed your points on his shooting style & hand/finger position Anthony.
All systems look to be go on D´Angelo!! It seems to me the man will work on his weaker points as not only this season but also his career move forward. A killer instinct demands it, right? [We Lakers fans have had 19 years of watching someone hone his killer instinct, unfailingly.]
Snarky George says
– As an 18 year old rookie, Kobe Bryant averaged 15.5 minutes, 7.6 pts, 1.9 reb and 1.3 assists.
– As a 19 year old, Kobe averaged 26 min, 15.4 pts, 2.1 reb and 2.5 assists.
I think we need to cool our jets and let Russell develop. If he’s as good as we all hope we’re likely to see it in Year Two as opposed to Year One.
I would have liked to have seen Huertas play with Okafor and R.J. Hunter. When you pretty much stink, take the sure thing. No one knows at this point if Russell is any better than Kendall Marshall. Who I liked.
And…how are you so sure okafor is gonna be better than russel? And vice versa. I dont see your point your trying to convey.
Cool nerd out
You forget that last summer league game when D’Angelo finally decided to go for his,… and reached 21 points. His shot will be, along with his passes, golden,.. and these, along with his supreme cool, confidence and intelligence way beyond his years, is why the Lakers are so fortunate to have landed him. His potential is so high that even he may fail to reach it, yet I’m glad the Lakers chose to swing for the fences with D’Angelo, versus to bunt, with Okafor.
It is not like me to take a middle ground position, however I think the last couple posts are at the extremes. First – nothing is a sure thing and that includes Okafor. Any pick can have an injury or can simply not work out. On the other hand Okafor (who was projected to be #2) is hardly a bunt (perhaps a single or double might have been the better choice). Further there is zero evidence that Russell has a higher upside. It is simply an opinion. He may or he may not. In general I agree with dxmanners, although I certainly am rooting for Russell. To this point – there is not significant evidence on either side, although summer league was advantage Okafor. Let’s see what happens.
When asked why the Lakers chose Russell over Okafor, Phil Jackson said with his characteristic wry smile, “they got the tape (measurements) on him” (Okafor). Translation: undersized. Meanwhile, Philly was crestfallen ,by all accounts, that the Lakers nabbed Russell ahead of them. Make of it what you will . . .
It is simply an opinion.
Sure, but it is a pretty widely-held one by people who observe and/or attempt to quantify prospects and who do it for a living/do it all the time. That doesn’t mean that they are right, of course, but it is not exactly the same thing as the opinions of a couple of random guys who watched three minutes of each player on You Tube.
As I said right after the draft, Russell’s college stats are a lot like John Wall’s. Okafor’s college numbers are very good as well of course although some of Towns’ key numbers are a little better.
The issues most people have with Okafor is that he is not especially athletic and he misses FTs, so it seems like he may not have that high of a ceiling as a two-way guy and could be Al Jefferson. But we will see.
I do expect that Okafor will look better than Russell early–which will create a lot of snark/nastiness on the intertubes, since, as many of us have said, the future of the Jim Buss FO hinges more on D’Angelo Russell than it does on anything else right now.
For Robert: Bunting is a safe option, which is no insult what so ever.
As for evidence of upside, the experts disagree with your opinion, and I agree with them.
D’Angelo has star power potential not only in his rare skill sets, but his personality and mindset.
The NBA is littered with talented players who are missing the mental aspect which propels them to greatness.
rr: Do not disagree, but when some (writers in general and posters) make their points they twist this a little. Russell does not “definitely” have a bigger upside. He “might”. Okafor is not a sure thing “All Star”, while having no chance of being a “Super Star”. In both cases, either guy could be a Super Star, an All Star, or a Flop. The odds you put on each result is “opinion”. After looking at the odds – the decision is situation/risk management.
There are no guarantees, only potential. Never said otherwise. That said, I place my bottom dollar on D’Angelo.
Kev: Correct – dx said “sure thing”. However, you stated that Okafor was a “bunt”. As opposed to Russell’s home run “fences”. That is a gap that is a little extreme.
And again Robert, a bunt, is a safe option.
Nothing at all wrong with a safe bet. The payoff is smaller, but one can’t object.
From your posts, one would surmise that you were disappointed that we passed on Okafor.
I was obviously rooting for the gamble of D’Angelo.
Russell might very well be the better prospect. However, all the armchair wizards who are relegating Okafor to a low upside prospect are just spouting hot-air.
How combine measurements put his wingspan at 7’3″, I believe, which absolutely separates him from the power forward sized players like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, etc, who top out at around 6’11”.
Moreover, Okafor has the best post move skill set coming out of college since probably Tim Duncan, and is already a superb passer out of doubles. His mid range shot provides ample evidence that he’ll eventually be a solid mid to high 60s free throw shooter.
And the only real knock on him is misplaced, namely that he’s supposedly not that athletic. But the truth is, the best centers on defense the last few years have been Marc Gasol and Bogus, neither of whom are superior athletes to what Okafor will be within a year or two.
He’s basically a smarter, psychologically balances version of Demarcus Cousins at his age. While there is no guarantee he develops as well as Cousins in the league, he’s at least as likely to be better, as he is to be worse, given his better head, and superior level of skill at the same age.
At a bare minimum, he’s more likely than not to be at least the second best post scorer in the league for a decade or so.
Also Jefferson? Worse size, worse athleticism, and a terrible aversion to passing and defense that Okafor does not share.
If he busts, he’s probably somewhere around Al Jefferson. If he hits, he’s better than Cousins. Sure, it’s just an opinion, but the facts are there to support it.