D’Angelo Russell made his return from a bruised glute in Thursday’s win over Maccabi Haifa and promptly put on a passing clinic. He dropped 11 dimes, several of them of the “whoa, nice look” variety which get fans out of their seats and teammates anxious to start cutting harder and working to come off screens better.
It wasn’t just that Russell was racking up the assists, though. It was what kind of assists they were. Or, more specifically, that his assists led to the exact types of baskets every offense wants.
Of D'Angelo Russell's 11 assists, 5 were for 3 pointers, 4 were for dunks. 4 of Ryan Kelly's 5 made shots were assisted by Russell.
— Contrarian Barbarian (@basquiatball) October 12, 2015
The backbone of the efficiency/analytics approach to offense is that the goal of every possession is to get one of three types of shots: a dunk/layup, a three point shot, or a trip to the foul line. It has been proven that these shots produce the highest level of points per possession which, simply put, is what every team wants. After all, the goal is to still score more points than your opponent.
Look at the above tweet again. Nine of Russell’s 11 assists led to the exact type of shots efficiency hounds crave. Further, while Russell didn’t score much (he only took two shots — making them both), the points he did score followed this same trend as he got a layup off a sweet Kobe pass and hit a pull up three pointer when his man sagged off him.
This isn’t new, either. Russell’s only played extended minutes in one other game this preseason, but that contest saw two of his three assists go for a dunk (Randle) and a layup (Clarkson) while his two baskets were a 3-pointer and a layup. If we’re scoring at home, then, of Russell’s 14 assists this preseason 11 have been for either a 3-pointer or dunks/layups while all four of his baskets are either layups or three pointers.
Perceptions are hard to break. As long as Byron Scott coaches the Lakers, regardless of how much his on the record comments start to shift, the team will be looked at through the lens of not adapting to the times of the “modern” NBA where efficiency is king. Fair or unfair, fans and analysts alike will get their jabs in because, well, this is what we do. Welcome to the internet.
But if there is a shift in how the team is viewed, it will come from how the players play and what types of shots they are taking/producing within the offense. It’s a small sample, but Russell is doing his part to change the narrative.