This is the initial installment of a series that will examine the respective strengths, weaknesses and potential exhibited by June’s top 10 draft picks.
For sure, the season is still young and these blue-chip rookies have just begun to learn the harsh realities of the pro game. Even so, they’ve all played in enough games for evaluations to be meaningful.
D’ANGELO RUSSELL: A 19-year-old, 6’5”, 185-pound point guard from Ohio State, tabbed by the Los Angeles Lakers as the second overall pick.
LAKERS – 104 NETS – 98
This was a poorly-played contest between two previously winless sad-sack teams. Indeed, the bucket that iced the game for LA was a desperate 23-foot heave by Julius Randle just before the shot-clock expired that slammed off the backboard before dropping like a stone through the hoop.
The Lakers won only because both teams couldn’t lose
Let’s now take a close look behind Russell’s individual numbers to discover what the young man did and didn’t do.
MINUTES PLAYED = 23
In the first half, Russell started, played six minutes, sat for 10 and then finished out the second quarter. He was given much less playing time in the second half, and he only played 2:45 of the fourth quarter (from 3:45 to 1:00 before getting subbed out for Lou Williams). It should be noted, however, that the Lakers played their best (and gained control late in the game) when Russell was on the bench and Williams played the point.
For what it’s worth, Williams was +6, while Russell was -2.
FGM-A = 6-9
Shooting was the best part of Russell’s game. A lefty, he bagged two mid-range jumpers pulling up left. In the third quarter, he also hit a 15-foot jumper pulling up right. This last shot was impressive for such a young player because he had to stop on a dime, square-up to the hoop, move the ball across his body from his right to his left hand and then bring the ball up to his routine release point. This is a difficult maneuver that, for example, it took LeBron James several years to master.
To free himself for one of his successful jumpers, Russell created space by pushing-off Jarrett Jack with his right-hand. A veteran move!
Russell did drop another jumper, but the score was disallowed off because Roy Hibbert was whistled for oafishly setting a moving screen.
Russell’s other two-pointer came after he set a loose baseline screen on the weak side, then turned to the basket, received an incoming pass and hit an unopposed layup. A cagey move by the rookie, taking advantage of one instance of the Nets’ routine defensive confusion.
Two of his misses were an off-balance floater and a botched layup on a 2-on-1 fast break. This last miss was significant: Russell drove hoopwards on the left side and drew the attention of Brooklyn’s lone defender. However, instead of making a simple pass to the wide-open Jordan Clarkson, Russell faked making a behind-the-back-pass (that failed to fool the defender) and tossed up an errant lefty shot under heavy pressure.
On several of the Lakers’ possessions, Russell found himself unguarded on the weak side. His reaction was to beg for the ball by furiously waving his hands. To no avail. No surprise that LA totaled only 14 assists for their 33 baskets.
3PM-A = 2-3
His initial trey softly bounced around the rim before nestling through the net. On his very next touch, he launched another three-ball that was a clean make. Later in the game, he badly missed a three-pointer that was clearly forced.
FTM-A = 2-2
Russell drove to the basket only four times — missing the floater, missing the fast-break layup, losing the ball when he tried to slip through heavy traffic and then getting fouled on a straight-ahead drive left.
From what he showed in this contest, Russell lacks the plus-speed and blast-off acceleration to routinely threaten opponents’ interior defenses. Moreover, he never demonstrated a crossover dribble, a spin or any other kind of change-of-direction move.
REB = 4
These constituted three uncontested defensive rebounds that bounced into his hands after all the Nets were hastily getting back on defense. His only offensive rebound was a long carom that also chanced to bounce his way.
AST = 0
He was cautious with his passes, making a few safe reversal passes, but also a neat entry pass to Kobe in the low post. His one kick-out pass to an open teammate had to be caught at knee-level, thereby forcing the shooter to bring the ball up to his release point and giving a nearby defender the chance to challenge the resulting shot — a miss.
Does Russell have trouble making accurate passes while on the move?
STL = 3
One of these accidentally occurred when Russell was an innocent bystander and the ball was simply thrown directly to him. Another was the result of Shane Larkin’s dribbling the ball off his own foot under Russell’s modest defensive pressure. The other steal came about when Russell alertly jumped into a passing lane — terrific court awareness here.
BLK = 0
On defense, Jack beat Russell into the lane twice — missing a complicated layup and also making an assist-pass. He also lost Jack during an early-offense sequence that let the Nets’ point guard bury an uncontested 18-footer.
Twice, Russell hesitated in making the transition from offense-to-defense — and both miscues were costly.
He often lost contact with his man on defense, but because the Nets’ offense was so inept, Russell’s inattention directly led to only a single bucket.
TO = 1
His ill-advised drive into a crowd.
PF = 1
Except for Jack’s two one-on-one drives, Russell’s defense was seldom challenged. His defensive errors were more of omission than of commission.
NON-STATS: On one weakside dive cut, Russell cleared a lane by stiff-arming his defender — Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a fellow rookie. He never got the ball, but this was another veteran move by Russell.
Early in the game, Russell cut through the middle from the strong to the weak side and made an admirable attempt to set meaningful screens. After his screens proved ineffective, Russell ran circle routes around the bigger opponents he was supposed to hinder.
The teenaged rookie shows a sweet stroke, a toughness and a remarkable maturity. For sure, he’ll gain weight, strength and better court awareness as his career progresses.
While it’s true that not all successful point guards have to play at warp speed, e.g. John Stockton, with the advent of “small ball” the game is quicker than ever.
Yet, given Russell’s lack of outstanding athleticism, his apparently straight up-and-down handle, and the absence of breakaway speed/quickness, right now the rookie is much more of a shooting guard than a point guard.