D’Angelo Russell Shows Scoring Prowess
Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell is undoubtedly talented, but has been frustratingly inconsistent throughout his first two seasons in the NBA. Known primarily for his court vision and passing abilities, Russell has shown flashes of brilliance as a point guard early in his career. However, on Sunday, Russell started at shooting guard alongside Jordan Clarkson, who started at point guard.
The results were rather encouraging. Russell posted 40 points (a career-high), six assists, two rebounds and two steals while shooting 14-for-22 from the field and 7-for-12 from three-point range. Russell made Lakers history with his scoring outburst.
D'Angelo Russell is the youngest player in Lakers history to score 40 points in a game (21 years, 24 days)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2017
Starting Russell at shooting guard was another step in head coach Luke Walton’s recent experimenting, which has become a priority as the Lakers have clearly turned their attention toward the future.
“We’re still trying to evaluate and see some things,” Walton said. “With the starting group, I’d prefer to watch Jordan run the traditional point spot and D’Angelo to get out on the wing… The perfect world is them being interchangeable. For now I want to see what D’Angelo does as an off-guard, I want to see what Jordan does as a point guard.”
For his part, Russell doesn’t seem opposed to the recent move.
“I feel like when you’re playing shooting guard, you’ve got to score the ball or make plays for your teammates,” Russell said. “Playing the point guard, it’s harder to do that, be aggressive, try to score the ball every time, because you’ve got to make at least one pass. But figuring it out, whatever position I’m in, I’m going to try to make the best of it.”
At 6-foot-4, 195 lbs., Russell isn’t particularly well-equipped to defend some of the bigger, more offensively-gifted shooting guards in the league. However, running two point guards together is a strategy that certain teams have utilized with nice results in recent seasons. Evaluating Russell’s ability to play off the ball now may be related to the fact that the Lakers have a decent shot at landing one of the top three picks in the upcoming draft, which features some potential franchise-caliber point guard prospects.
Markelle Fultz of Washington University and Lonzo Ball of UCLA are projected by many to be selected with the top-two picks in the upcoming draft. Fultz is listed at 6-foot-4 while Ball checks in at 6-foot-6 and each has the tools to play effectively on or off the ball. Considering this, it makes a lot of sense that Walton and his staff want to know what Russell is capable of both as a point guard and shooting guard.
Clarkson is a solid young player in his own right, but he would likely be supplanted in the lineup rather quickly if the Lakers land either Fultz of Ball in the draft. The hope would be that either of them could be a more effective backcourt mate for Russell considering how poorly he and Clarkson have played together this season.
“Individually, they’ve both made great growth throughout the season,” Walton said, “but for whatever reason, the two of them on the court together, when we’ve tried it, hasn’t statistically been very good for us. But it’s good to see that it worked tonight.”
Another notable point guard who has, by necessity, had to play off the ball a lot in recent seasons offered some public praise for Russell after their matchup.
“He’s a great young player, Kyrie Irving said. “I’ve been playing against him for a few years in the league, and I understand what he means to the Lakers.”
Russell will have more frustrating moments in the future, but the talent is there and if Sunday’s performance is any indication of things to come, he could thrive as a scorer if the Lakers land either Fultz or Ball in the upcoming draft.
Clippers Showing Doubt on the Eve of the Playoffs
The Los Angeles Clippers have had a pretty tough season thus far. With significant injuries to key players and extended periods of inconsistent play, the Clippers are currently 42-29 and hold the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
The good news is that the team is relatively healthy and they have bested their likely first-round opponent, the Utah Jazz, in three of their four matchups this season. The bad news is they are just 23-19 against Western Conference teams, 19-18 on the road and have been unsettlingly inconsistent since the All-Star break. While the Clippers are still capable of beating just about any team on any given night, the inconsistency hasn’t escaped the attention of players like J.J. Redick.
“I don’t know what to expect from this team anymore,” Redick said recently. “We’re in a bad place right now. We’re losing games. We’ve been (garbage) since the All-Star break.
“Going into a game, what do you expect? I expect that we’re going to play horrible defense. I expect that. That seems pretty consistent with where we’re at right now and other than that I have no other predictions.”
While Redick’s comments are cause for concern, the more optimistic view is that the Clippers have won their last two games and Blake Griffin has looked particularly engaged lately. In their win against the New York Knicks, Griffin contributed 30 points, six rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block while shooting 12-for-19 from the field and 3-for-4 from three-point range. Griffin wasn’t ready to say that all that ails the Clippers was cured by Monday night’s win, but he did find some positive takeaways.
“We’ve been better,” Griffin said after the game. “I’d like to see us execute like this in a little bit more stressful environment, on the road or in different situations. It’s a good sign. It’s always nice to have a game where most everybody is under 30 minutes. We get to rest in the fourth quarter and get ready for the Lakers.”
The Clippers have 11 regular season games left to try and recapture the early-season intensity that had them looking like a true contender back in November and December. Failure to do so could have a lot of short and long-term implications for the franchise.
Still, with the Lakers possibly adding another lottery pick this summer and the Clippers showing progress, there’s plenty to be excited about in Los Angeles.
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