The Lakers are the proverbial walking wounded right now. Nick Young is out with a strained calf. Jose Calderon is out with a strained hamstring. In Monday’s loss to the Jazz, Tarik Black sprained his ankle and did not return to the game. Larry Nance, Jr. sat out the game vs. the Jazz with a knee contusion. And, of course, D’Angelo Russell has been out with knee soreness and the resulting PRP injection he took to stimulate healing. That’s four key rotation players and the point guard who has replaced Russell while he’s been out.
There may be some good news on the horizon, though. At least in terms of Russell.
D'Angelo Russell will begin on-court work again, but won't travel with the team to Houston.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 6, 2016
Russell’s initial diagnosis was that he’d be out at least two weeks. We are approaching that mark now, so it’s good to hear that he is (essentially) on schedule. Though he will not travel on Wednesday (which would be 14 days since the injection), the fact that he is progressing enough to get back on the court is promising. This doesn’t mean he will be ready to play by weeks end, though.
Will D'Angelo Russell play on Friday or Sunday? Luke Walton said it's a possibility, but did not make it sound likely…
— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) December 6, 2016
Now, maybe that is bad news. Okay, there’s no “maybe” about it. The Lakers could really use Russell back for reasons which go beyond their back court depth being decimated. Russell is one of the team’s best players, the starting point guard, and the 1st unit’s best passer. The team’s offense has suffered a great deal with him out and Luke Walton’s desire to keep the bench unit intact has meant starting groups which often get out to poor starts, digging a hole the team’s reserves have to try and dig themselves out of.
More often than not, the bench has not been able to turn those deficits into maintainable leads even if they’re battled admirably and clearly been able to make a difference. The bench can only do so much, they need the starters to do more. Russell helps in that regard a great deal.
If Russell is back and ready to play by the start of next week, that would be great. Yes, he’ll miss another 3 games and that’s not ideal for a team which has been skidding downhill while trying to heal up. But, still, if he’s able to get back into the lineup, play to the level he was before injury, and stay healthy the team can start to regain some of what made them a surprise team to start the year.
Mostly, though, I just miss watching Russell play. Him being out for an extended period has only upped my appreciation for how he runs the offense, how much the attention the defense pays him matters, and how much his passing acumen helps everyone else on the roster. It’s not a coincidence that several key players’ shooting efficiency numbers have tumbled with Russell out — he’s a player who delivers them the ball on time and on target in positions where they can score. Pocket passes into the short roll, slings to the corner where wings are moving off picks, open court dimes to big man running hard. Russell does all these things nightly and they’ve been missing with him out.
So, yeah, I’m happy to hear Russell is getting back to doing on court work. Here’s hoping there are no setbacks and he’s back playing actual games soon.