Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott struggled with whether he would start D’Angelo Russell, their second pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, to kick off the season. Ultimately, Scott decided to run with the rookie, for the first 20 games of the year, where he averaged 11 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers, and 1.1 steals per game. But, after opening the season with a 3-17 record, Scott decided to make a change, sending both Russell and Julius Randle to the second unit.
Scott explained later, that teaching a lesson of humility, letting Russell know that he has not yet “earned” that starting spot played a big factor in his decision to send the rookie back to the bench.
On Thursday, Russell admitted that he did expect to have that starting role at the beginning of the season, despite being a 19-year-old rookie. Now, after being named the starter for the rest of the season a second time around, Russell’s uncertain whether he’s actually “earned” that starting spot. However, he knows one thing, he doesn’t want to give Scott a reason to take him out of it, and that extends to next season.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I earned it,” Russell told LakersNation.com of his second opportunity in the starting five. “But, for some reason Coach (Scott) threw me back in the starting lineup, and I don’t want to look back… I just want to build that trust now, so that next year he knows he can run with the young guys in the backcourt.”
In his three games since returning to the starting lineup, Russell has averaged 15.3 points, 6.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.3 turnovers per game, recording a career-high eight assists in the Lakers loss to Memphis Wednesday night. Since the beginning of the season, Russell said he’s started to recognize players’ preferences and been able to apply that to how he controls the floor.
“I would just say being aggressive,” Russell said of how his mentality has changed since his first starter stint. “Coming in (to start the season), I was trying to run a play, every possession and guys don’t really like that, they just like to freelance and be able to make basketball plays without there being a play call and I kind of recognized that, so I try to make guys happy and be aggressive at the same time.”
Scott said he will be looking more at tandems than individuals when evaluating the Lakers young core over the next eight weeks, specifically with Russell and second-year standout, Jordan Clarkson.
“I just want to see if those guys can coexist, and I think they can, I really do,” Scott said of Clarkson and Russell. “They still have a long ways to go on both ends. I want to see if they can coexist on the defensive end. That’s the biggest area… both of those guys have got some tough jobs, that’s where it starts, the defense starts with your guards.”
The Lakers are now back at home after playing more road games (34) than any other team in the league up to this point, and they will get another shot at Memphis on Friday as the Grizzlies come into Staples Center, 7:30 PM PST.