D’Angelo Russell’s Struggles Are Deeper Than Poor Coaching


D’Angelo Russell’s rookie season struggles are deeper than just poor coaching limiting his ceiling.

Superstars, in any league, are built from incorporating rigorous effort into a player’s elite-level ability. Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is an example of translating a passion to improve into progressively becoming one of the league’s most iconic players.

When D’Angelo Russell was drafted by the Lakers at No. 2 in the 2015 NBA Draft, there was the impression that Kobe would become the essential mentor to the 19-year-old Russell.

Bryant, along with head coach Byron Scott, was supposed to ease Russell’s transition into the professional level. The future Hall-of-Famer hasn’t had as much of an impact on Russell’s game as expected, despite taking less contested looks and sitting out more games as the year has progressed.

At times, Bryant and the rookie have clashed on the court and Russell has been noted to have nonchalantly taken a loss and play with a cockiness instead of confidence in recent weeks. In addition, Scott has been more of a scolding adult than a figure Russell can go to for guidance in his rookie season.

"“One thing that D’Angelo Russell said this morning, I thought was very telling is that he literally does not know what questions to ask Byron Scott about how to get better,” said David Aldridge after the Lakers’ loss Thursday night to Chicago. “I mean, he wants to get better, he knows he makes mistakes, but he is so young at age 19… He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. In terms of getting better as an NBA point guard, he’s just lost.”"

Unable to get the necessary assistance, the Ohio State product has been evidently indecisive and stuck taking ill-advised shot attempts or missing passes to open teammates. Also, having to turn right to the bench and take a seat before the opening tip is a surreal and audacious approach to Scott’s play in Russell’s development.

More from Los Angeles Lakers

Coming off the bench and unable to get vital information to improve from one of the league’s best and a borderline futile coach with a 30-101 record, the rookie has unfairly encompassed the label of a bust. In his opening season, this is troubling for the dynamo, who some people labeled the “heir to Magic Johnson” at the point guard position.

However, Kobe Bryant won’t be able to heighten Russell’s defensive lax effort and intensity emitted on the court. In fact, Byron Scott might not either, as arguably one of the league’s most incompetent leaders on the sideline and in the midst of a 9-40 season.

If Russell doesn’t show the tendency to sharpen his mettle on a day-to-day basis, he’ll lose the hype that accompanied him when he first was selected by the Lakers and the sky-high expectations placed on him in his rookie season.

He’s realized that continuous progression is a necessity in the league, with repetitions in practice translating into production during games.

"“Any time anybody says something bad about me, that means I’ve got to work. If they say I’m not living up to what my potential is, I’ve got to work — and that’s every day,” said Russell, per LA Times’ Eric Pincus. “LeBron [James] still gets criticism …. You’ve still got to do something better.”"

Russell will never realize his potential if he continues to coast through games throughout the season and turn into the one-sided player teams detest. His positive defensive win shares is slightly misleading, due to his pension for going for the steal rather than sticking onto his man for the 24 seconds.

Also, his awareness, on the defensive end, is still in the developmental stage. He does a ton of ball-watching when his man doesn’t have the ball and can get caught wandering into the paint when the ball is headed to the basket, leaving the perimeter option wide open.

While awareness is in a separate realm than effort, both are attributions associated with aloof rookies. Russell is an exemplary model of not showing as much intensity on one end compared to the other.

Maybe this is the product of being benched in his rookie year, despite showing flashes of offensive brilliance at times. Russell isn’t as interested at showing what he can do on the defensive end and is focusing on impressing more in the areas he’s more adept in.

Russell, despite averaging 12.0 PPG and shooting 42.1 percent from the floor, has been a relatively inefficient option compared to his fellow rookie peers. His 49.5 TS% (True Shooting Percentage) ranks last out of the first six players selected in the 2015 NBA draft.

His ability to make contested shots and fire lasers to his teammates was Russell’s calling card entering the league. However, the effectiveness has yet to become consistently apparent for the highly-touted rookie. The confidence regarding his offensive abilities is a crutch that’s keeping him going throughout this hyper-turbulent rookie campaign.

The only concern is that Russell isn’t as offensively dynamic as either Westbrook or Curry. It’s hard to actually gauge his tier, with sporadic lineups and team incohesive-ness limiting his ceiling. Playing at one of the league’s deepest positions, it’s going to be a challenge for Russell to stand out from his peers.

Along with his poor defensive effort and awareness, Russell’s athleticism limits what he can do on the offensive end. He has the ideal frame, as a 6’5″, 195-pound combo guard, but doesn’t have that burst of a Damian Lillard or the lift of a Russell Westbrook. Those aforementioned guards have the innate ability to blow by defenders and play above the rim.

Russell will have to develop a deeper offensive arsenal to combat the athletic deficiencies compared to the other multi-diverse Western Conference point guards. Finishing at the rim is a primary area Russell will need to work on for his offensive game to evolve.

Shotchart_1454260812102 /

Confidence is a prominent theme in Russell’s game that will salvage his ability to make the necessary plays for the Lakers as he develops. He will seize the ball late in the shot clock and try to make the clutch go-ahead or game-winning play. If Russell becomes more devoted becoming a better defender or taking the easier shot attempt, his ceiling could eventually be reached.

More hoops habit: 15 Players Not Living Up To 2015 Summer Contracts

He’s blessed with intangibles and ability players in the league would covet. It’s becoming the quintessential professional that will carry Russell out of the state of gloom he’s currently playing in.