Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton is impressed with D’Angelo Russell’s commitment to adapting his style of play to fit what the coaching staff feels is best for the team. Despite Russell being a bit more comfortable as a natural scorer, Walton explained that the direction they’ve asked Russell to take his game offensively is to focus on ball movement and increasing pace of play.
“I think he’s more comfortable as a natural scorer and the way we are asking him to play is much more ball movement, get down, throw it to the first open guy, cut through the lane type of basketball and that’s not naturally how he plays, so it’s obviously a learning curve to try to change it but he’s been great, he’s trying, and that’s what you can ask for,” Walton said after Tuesday night’s game.
Russell says it’s a role that makes him feel like he has to earn all of his minutes on the floor, something that could have the potential to push his game to new heights in the future.
“I like it,” Russell said of his role. “You’ve got to earn everything, take advantage of your time. Nobody is really playing high minutes that I know of but you’ve got to earn every minute and I don’t mind not playing throughout the game but finishing the game is what I really want to do.”
Russell is right. No player is averaging more than 29 minutes per game on the Lakers this season and the minutes are spread around quite a bit, as nine different Lakers are averaging 20+ minutes per game. As such, there’s been several stretches where Russell sits for a long length of time, even more so since receiving his PRP injection in his knee a few weeks ago, which has also led to what Russell had described as some “funky” lineups during games. But, while those lineups add another difficult challenge to this group growing as team, Russell knows it’s also something the team can learn from.
“It’s difficult,” Russell said of the changing lineups throughout the game. “But, we’ve got to realize, as a team, when you’re on the court with five, four guys you’ve never practiced with or did anything with, you’ve got to realize that you’ve got to go strictly into scramble mode everytime on defense. On offense, its just basketball movement, there’s no plays being called, it’s just trusting the next guy. Whenever you look over your shoulder and see guys that you’re not familiar with playing with, that’s when you go straight into that mode, so its just getting everybody on that page.”
Walton’s been preaching all season that it’s defense that wins games. After Tuesday’s 102-100 loss to the Utah Jazz, Walton was proud of his players for their growth defensively, delivering the message that the reason they were even in that game, was because of how they fought on defense, and one of those important defensive factors is D’Angelo Russell.
“The way we’re asking him to play defensively, he was more active than he’s been,” Walton said of Russell’s defense Tuesday night. “He was talking out switches, fighting offensively, and he had more of a push to his game as far as trying to help set the tone and pace we want to play with.”
Offensively, although Russell struggled to hit shots, Walton was also satisfied with the shots he was taking. Too many times this year, Russell has found himself in the groove of taking what Walton refers to as “dribble dribble shoot” type looks, rather than being in the flow of the offense. Against Utah, Walton said Russell made progress in where and how he was getting his shots.
“I struggled on the offensive end, but on the defensive end, I tried to make every play,” Russell said. “Just to be on the floor, coach has a variety amount of guys that he can pick from to be on the floor to finish the games, so I’m trying to work to be one of those guys every game. Defensively, I felt I kind of earned it.”