D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, has not had a great start to his career. He is playing for an old-school coach who has been more inclined to go with veterans instead of developing a rookie whose game is predicated on taking risks. His playing time has fluctuated and his confidence has waned. As a result, Russell has been the least impressive top five pick in a draft class that is looking very strong.
For one night, however, everything clicked. Against the Timberwolves on Wednesday, Russell showed off the shot-making ability and court vision that had him climbing draft boards during his sole year in college.
His 23 points on 20 shots don't look special but the way he got them was. He hit tough pull-up after tough pull-up despite being guarded by solid defensive players like Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins and came through in the clutch after finally being given the responsibility to take the last shot.
D'ANGELO RUSSELL ONIONS pic.twitter.com/WmvwH1BHMk— Silver Screen & Roll (@LakersSBN) December 10, 2015
With that leaner he sent the game to overtime, where the Lakers would ultimately lose. Final scores are not really all that important in Los Angeles right now, not after a slow start killed their playoff chances. Finding out if Russell is someone they can build around is what the rest of the season should be about, and the game against the Timberwolves suggests he is.
His late-game heroics weren't the only reason for optimism. In smaller, less flashy plays, Russell proved he can carry an offense as a ball handler. He had three assists in the fourth quarter. Two of those proved he has tremendous potential a playmaker on the pick-and-roll.
The patience he shows in that play is something that it often takes years for lesser players to develop. He could have panicked and made the easy pass to the weak side, where Julius Randle was open. Instead he knew that just by waiting an extra second, he was going to have Robert Sacre all alone rolling to the rim.
Russell's vision is terrific in this play. He doesn't drive with his head down. You can see him surveying the floor, realizing that the defense had collapsed and then finding a wide open Marcelo Huertas. His pass is impressive, as well, as he hits his teammate right on target. He just has to catch and shoot.
Guards that like to shoot often get pigeonholed as scorers but it's obvious Russell can be more than that. His range is obviously an asset but he can also make plays for others, which suggests he could be a nightmare for defenses to guard once he develops more consistency.
It's just one game but Russell has showed that he deserves more minutes and the chance to be on the court late in games. He is far from a finished product but after an underwhelming start to his rookie season that had some doubting whether the Lakers have made a mistake by picking him with the second overall pick, he's proving that he has the talent to be a special player.
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