Heading into the 2016-17 NBA season, most believed that D’Angelo Russell had a clear path to the Los Angeles Lakers’ throne. With Kobe Bryant retired, it appeared that Russell was poised to step into the leadership void, with his quarterbacking from the point guard position and intriguing skill set giving him an edge.
However, Russell hasn’t been as consistent as the Lakers were hoping for, and a series of injuries have kept him sidelined for stretches of the season. When he has it going, Russell’s potential is impossible to miss, but on off-nights, things can get ugly fast. Despite being arguably the Lakers’ most important player, he is averaging just 26.8 minutes per game under head coach Luke Walton, which is less than 28.2 minutes he received last season when previous head coach Byron Scott was criticized for not playing him enough.
Over the past three games, Russell’s minutes have increased, and Walton credits his improved play as the reason for the change, via Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
“He’s been earning more minutes with his play, honestly,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “It wasn’t intentional, just a credit to the way he’s going after it. … He’s just more ready to go from the start of the games. I think as a player, even if you’re not looking to score, if you just get aggressive and get involved in the game you naturally start to feel part of what’s happening and then you start to play better.”
Russell has indeed been more aggressive recently, and his numbers across the board have increased accordingly. Most notably, Russell is averaging nine assists during this span, a dramatic increase from the 4.8 per game he is posting for the season.
If Russell can continue to develop as a playmaker, he will help both himself and his Lakers teammates, who badly need their point guard to create solid looks for them. The season isn’t over, and Russell just may have enough time left to prove that he is worthy of the hype after all.