“Stephen Curry” is the name that spilled out of D’Angelo Russell’s mouth when he was asked which NBA player resembles his game the most after working out with the Lakers. Not only has Russell set the bar extremely high for himself, but surely the fans will have similarly lofty expectations for the confident No. 2 draft pick.
For the fans who weren’t tuned into Summer League action these past few weeks, Russell’s performances wouldn’t validate his desire to be like the NBA’s MVP and champion. However, his confidence shouldn’t be confused with arrogance. When the guard out of Ohio State addresses the media, he’s usually harping on his weaknesses and the importance of improving — bulking up, taking better care of the basketball, being more attentive on defense, etc. One particular area in which Russell definitely isn’t as proficient as Curry is shooting, but in all fairness, who is that good?
Despite struggling with his shot throughout much of Summer League, shooting is a part of Russell’s game fans shouldn’t be concerned about. He was an excellent shooter in college and finally found his stroke in the Lakers’ final Summer League game against the Jazz. The youngster went off for 21 points on 10-20 shooting, including a barrage of smooth mid-range jumpers.
Lakers fans should be excited to have a multifaceted player like Russell who can score in numerous ways, whether it be by spotting up off the ball or creating a shot for himself off the bounce. During his time at OSU, Russell remained active without the ball, running around screens and spotting up, and he’ll get more of those opportunities during the regular season when he shares the floor with Kobe Bryant and Jordan Clarkson.
Unfortunately, the Lakers won’t have pristine floor spacing this upcoming year, meaning Russell will have to rely on the pick-and-roll and off-the-ball movement to create space for himself. But luckily for Lakers Nation, Russell’s most reliable means for creating space is his step-back jumper, which is a move he’ll likely employ all throughout his career.
Russell had an offensive rating of 115.7 in his lone season at Ohio State — a number used to quantify points generated per 100 possessions — and he used over 30 percent of his team’s possessions when he was on the floor, per Sports-Reference.com. If anything can validate Russell’s earlier comment about being most like Curry, it’s these numbers. In fact, the only freshmen wing players who have boasted an offensive rating of 114 or more and have used at least 28 percent of their team’s possessions in the last 10 years are Curry and James Harden, per Bleacher Report.
More than just a scorer, Russell has shown promise of becoming an elite floor general, racking up an assist percentage over 30 in his lone season at Ohio State. During Summer League, he dished out several spot-on passes — most of which amounted to turnovers because his teammates weren’t expecting them. Nevertheless, Russell’s accuracy is the mark of a creative passer. He’s shown his ability to foresee the best possible plays and bring them into existence with his pinpoint lead passing. Once he plays with NBA-level players long enough to develop good chemistry, his ingenuity will begin to bear fruit.
Defensively, Russell lacks the foot speed to be a shutdown defender, but his ability to move laterally mixed with his 6’5″ frame enables him to defend multiple positions and play adequate on-ball defense. Mark Madsen, the Lakers’ Summer League coach, praised Russell’s performance defensively when he said his on-ball defense “was very, very good,” per Drew Garrison of Silver Screen and Roll.
Like many young NBA players, Russell occasionally falls victim to ball-watching and losing track of his man. Cognizant of the fact that he’s prone to defensive lapses, Russell owned up to his mistakes and admitted to “falling asleep” at times on defense.
This promising player certainly has a long way to go before he performs up to his superstar-level dream in the NBA, but Russell showed flashes of greatness in the Summer League despite struggling for much of it. Although the Lakers’ deficiencies as a team overshadowed the 19-year-old’s passing instincts, scoring ability and capability to switch on defense, it’ll be intriguing to see if he stands out in his first NBA season.