Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell sounded both humbled and authentic when he talked about the challenge of guarding Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard in their preseason matchup on Tuesday night. The two-time NBA All-Star dropped 30 points through three quarters in their overtime win and reminded Russell of all the offensive tools he has at his disposal. Though Russell got a few cracks at guarding Lillard in his rookie campaign, the 20-year-old sophomore knows he has plenty of studying up to do before he gets another opportunity in the regular season a few months from now.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to do,” Russell said on Tuesday night after having a tough time guarding Lillard. “So, I’ve got to look at film, and ask for a little more guidance.”
That eagerness to learn is the type of attitude head coach Luke Walton wants from all of his players, and is the mentality he’s seen from Russell, since before the start of training camp.
“That’s how D’Angelo has been ever since we’ve been here as a staff,” Walton said at Wednesday’s practice. “He’s been trying to learn more, he wants to go watch tape, wants to go watch games. He’s been very coachable, so yeah you want that out of your young players, that’s for sure.”
Russell explained that last year he had quite a different mindset going into big matchups. Although he stepped out on the floor with the confidence that he was the best player out there, he quickly learned that without the experience, it was just talk.
“When it comes to experience, there’s only so much you can do with it, and when you don’t have that experience and you’re going against those veteran guards, they’re two steps ahead,” Russell explained. “But, you being a young guy going into this league, you’re going to have that confidence until you get a reality check, and I got my reality check and now I’m ready to go.”
Last season, it was always, how will D’Angelo Russell fare against Rajon Rondo? Stephen Curry? Russell Westbrook? Damian Lillard? [Or, insert any elite point guard here] But, Russell explains that he never felt like he was a factor in those matchups, because he didn’t have the experience.
“Last year going into those games, there was no matchup,” Russell explained about matching up against any big name guard. “It was, ‘That guard vs. us (the Lakers)’ I wasn’t a factor, I guess, it wasn’t ‘D’Angelo vs. this guard.’ I didn’t do anything but learn from it… Coming into this year, I can compete a little bit more.”
Russell has the support and confidence from his head coach. Even after a rough shooting night (0-9 from beyond the arc against the Blazers) and his share of defensive lapses, Walton encouraged him to keep shooting, though admitting there were times Russell could have looked more to get his teammates looks. At the end of the day, it’s still a work in progress.
“I’m still learning my way into this league,” Russell acknowledged. “So, competing at a high level and trying to get myself going, and get other guys going and winning, is all that really matters.”