In my preview for Sunday’s Lakers vs. Nuggets preseason game, I wrote the following about what I was watching for with D’Angelo Russell:
Can Russell come close to duplicating Friday’s effectiveness? When Russell is on offensively, he is a terror. His feel for scoring is fantastic and his ability to get buckets at all three levels of the floor stands out compared to some of his PG peers. On Friday he had his entire game working and I would love for the same thing to be the case today.
Russell didn’t just come close to duplicating his previous game’s effort, he surpassed it.
I am usually someone who errs on the side of caution with young players and will continue to do so with Russell. He is, after all, only 20 and while I might tweet out things that say he’s really good (I believe he is), it is another thing to discuss with certainty just how good a guy is when he is this young. You might be able to do that with a Shaq/LeBron/Jordan/Magic — physical marvels who come into the league already so developed that their games translate immediately — or a Duncan/Bird type whose skill level and mental game(s) are already so refined that they can play at a high level immediately.
But Russell came into the league at 19, playing (I’d argue) the most difficult position in the league for a young player to adapt to, and is admittedly someone who has historically needed time to figure things out at every level of competition he’s seen. We saw how that played out last season. He was up and down, but the flashes were there.
Then, this summer, the light really seemed to come on. He dominated Las Vegas, often looking like the best player on the floor. That has carried over to preseason now too.
While his first game offered some struggles, the last two games have been tremendous. It’s not just that he is scoring well, it’s how easy he’s making it look. Check out his highlights from Sunday’s win:
When Russell was coming out of Ohio State, this is what fans who supported his being drafted #2 overall thought was possible. Him playing in a heavy P&R system with a spaced floor leads to the types of looks he’s getting. Of course he has improved from last season — his handle is tighter, he’s stronger, and he has a better sense for where he needs to get on the floor and how to get there.
But the feel for simply putting the ball in the basket is still what stands out. The bank shot after the behind the back ball fake, the House of Slytherin drive off the high pick with the one hand scoop shot, the floaters when going down hill against a hedging big man…he has the entire package.
I don’t know what Russell’s ceiling is as a player. But he’s showing this preseason that he’s on the verge of making a leap. This doesn’t surprise me, but man, is it nice to see.