Up through Tuesday’s practice, Byron Scott was noncommittal on D’Angelo Russell starting in the Lakers’ season opener. He didn’t give reasons, but expressed he’d yet to make up his mind on the matter. I, for one, didn’t really believe that with it the day before the game, having seen Russell for an entire summer league and training camp, and knowing how the rest of the roster fit together.
But that was Byron’s story and he was sticking to it. Fine, no problem. We would get final word today, the day of the game, and that would be that. Well, guess what? D’Angelo Russell is starting.
D'Angelo Russell will start tonight against Minnesota along with Jordan Clarkson, Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle and Roy Hibbert
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 28, 2015
Per the OC Register’s Bill Oram, Scott really did make up his mind this morning on whether this year’s #2 overall pick would run with the first team:
But on Wednesday morning, the Lakers coach woke up at 4:30 a.m. thinking about his team’s opener in 15 hours against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He did bikram yoga at 6:30 to settle his mind.
At the top of his list of decisions, was whether No. 2 overall draft choice D’Angelo Russell should start in his NBA debut.
“That’s probably what woke me up,” Scott said following the Lakers’ morning shoot around, “because I woke up and I had D.R. on my mind and the team on my mind.”
In reality, player slotting and skill sets of the guys should have made this decision fairly simple — especially f the alternative to starting Russell was inserting Marcelo Huertas with the starters.
Huertas has proven to be a dynamic passer and a very good quarterback for the team’s offense. But the most unreliable part of his game right now is his outside shooting. When playing with a unit of Clarkson, Kobe, and Randle floor spacing is imperative. Russell hasn’t been knocking down his outside shot with consistency (29% in the preseason), but as a spot up option he’s much preferable to Huertas.
Further, as Scott himself acknowledged, Huertas’ fit with the 2nd unit works well. His pass first (and second) mentality blends well with score happy wings like Lou Williams and Nick Young as well as big men who need shots created for them like Brandon Bass, Ryan Kelly, and Tarik Black.
Just because Russell is starting, though, doesn’t mean he’ll be the “lead” guard.
Byron wants Jordan Clarkson to handle the ball more often than Russell tonight. Thus, my earlier tweet that Russell will be more SG than PG
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 28, 2015
We’ll see how this plays out on the court, but my guess is that the last few preseason games provide a blueprint for what this will look like. In those games Clarkson brought the ball up more than Russell and initiated the offense much more frequently. Russell did get his chances to set the action, but mostly just ran the Lakers “elbow” or “chin” series actions where he entered the ball to one of the wings or into a big man and then cut off the ball to the weak side.
In any event, Russell will be on the floor when the game starts. We’ll see if he remains should the game be close at the end.