Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott has taken his fair share of criticism in regards to the development of their 2015 No. 2 NBA draft pick D’Angelo Russell this season. At first, the criticism centered around Scott not making up his mind about whether to open the season with the 19-year-old rookie in the starting lineup. Then, when he did decide to start Russell (for the first 20 games of the season), the criticism switched to either how Russell was being utilized or why Russell wasn’t playing at the end of games.
Scott has since switched Russell’s role to that of the second unit, alongside sophomore forward Julius Randle (prior to Larry Nance’s injury), and he’s taken plenty of heat for his decision. But, Scott stands by it, and explained his thought process in further depth on Monday.
“When I (Bryon Scott) took him (D’Angelo Russell) out of the starting lineup, it was more of, not only that he wasn’t playing great but more to let him know that you still haven’t earned this, you still have to fight for this, nothing’s given,” Scott said after practice. “Prime example is Kobe, he didn’t start for three years. I didn’t want him to just feel that, ‘this is who I am, I should be starting on the Lakers, because I’m the second pick.’ No, you start because you work hard, and you earn it.”
The criticism is back on how Scott is developing Russell, even more specifically on the amount of minutes he is playing. Scott responded to that criticism on Monday, after The OC Register’s Bill Oram informed him of Clippers TV analyst Don MacLean’s comments that Scott should tell Russell: “I don’t care if you turn it over 15 times tonight, you’re going to play 35 minutes.”
“First of all to Don, that’s why you’re not coaching, let’s put it that way. You don’t let a guy almost go out there and embarrass himself, kill himself by playing 35 minutes and creating 10, 12, 15 turnovers. The one thing that can do is self destruct him as an individual, so what I try to do is teach these guys, but also protect them from making mistakes like that, from getting ridiculed after a game like that. My job is to help these guys develop and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. Sometimes it’s going to be 20 minutes, sometimes it’s going to be 25 sometimes it’s going to be 30…”
Russell has started 22 of the 48 games he’s played in this season, averaging 11.9 points, 3.3 assists and 2.5 turnovers in 26.9 minutes. He’s showed flashes of his potential, scoring a career-high of 27 points off the bench on 11-of-16 shooting earlier in January against Sacramento and setting a career-high with seven assists in consecutive games in December. But, Russell has also struggled in recent games to knock down shots, and most noticeably been careless on offense and lackadaisical on defense.
“I think he’s struggling with his decision making more than anything,” Scott said of Russell, also referencing strings of unforced turnovers in the past couple games. “He’s making his mind up before the play is there. I told him you’ve got to let defense dictate to you what to do. You can’t already come off a screen and say I’m going to make this little bounce pass, it might not be there. That’s where he gets himself in trouble.”
Still, expect Russell to be back in the starting lineup at some point this season. Although Scott made it unclear when he expects to make another lineup change, he did suggest that it wouldn’t be until after the All-Star break, pending additional injuries.
The Lakers have decided to shut down Larry Nance, Jr. until at least the end of the All-Star break, which means Randle is back in the starting lineup.
Russell will have another chance to prove himself on Tuesday night when the Lakers matchup against Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves.