The five men convened at half-court. Lakers coach Byron Scott and guard Kobe Bryant began talking. Lakers rookie guard D’Angelo Russell, second-year guard Jordan Clarkson and second-year forward Julius Randle listened intently. All of which presumably entailed something they had discussed earlier in Wednesday’s practice.
Scott’s experiment to feature Russell as an off-ball guard will become a one-hit wonder. Russell will start point guard and assume ball-handling duties when the Lakers (0-1) visit the Sacramento Kings (0-1) on Friday at Sleep Train Arena.
“The one thing I have to get D’Angelo to get better at is pushing the tempo,” Scott said. “He’s probably a better decision maker even at 19 years old and it’s his rookie year. So we’ll have him on the ball right now.”
It seemed surprising that Russell was not here earlier. After all, Bryant noted “that’s what we brought him here to do” after the Lakers drafted Russell at the No. 2 overall pick. But Scott wanted to lessen Russell’s workload and maximize chances for anyone to run the fast break after a rebound. But Russell struggled in his preseason debut playing off-the-ball, posting four points on 2-of-7 shooting and recording more turnovers (three) than assists (two). Russell also did not play in the entire fourth quarter.
“It was cool. I wouldn’t say it took me away from my game,” Russell said. “I just adjusted from being the point guard and then playing off the ball is not foreign to me. I can do that. But in practice, I gained the chemistry with playing with guys on the ball.”
Still, Russell obviously prefers playing at point guard. He excelled in that position in his lone season at Ohio State last year where he averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and five assists while shooting 41 percent from three-point range.
“It’ll give me the opportunity to control the game a little bit more and let guys like Jordan and Kobe play off the ball,” Russell said. “They can attack when they get the ball. They don’t have to get a rebound or something and push it and make their job harder than what it is.”
Russell’s job seemed harder than it is.
He had never played shooting guard at all during preseason play. Russell conceded feeling insecure about where to cut on the court. He already had sensed a learning curve with the game’s pace and how to ensure his teammates catch his unexpected passes.
“That’s what he does best is organize the offense,” Bryant said. “JC is a great attack player. So at the backside, it’s probably more useful. D’Angelo loves to organize the game. He’s a great playmaker and facilitator. That’s what he’s best suited.”
That does not mean Russel will only handle the offense, however. Clarkson revealed that the team has figured out ball handling duties in two ways. If Clarkson, Bryant or Randle grab a rebound, they will push the ball up the floor. Russell will do the same. If the Lakers need to inbound the ball, Russell will take care of the point-guard duties. He also will do that if the Lakers need to settle into a half-court offense.
“It’ll make us more comfortable in terms of using our weapons,” Clarkson said. “I’ll be aggressive and D’angelo will be out there getting everybody involved and knocking own shots. It’ll play in our favor.”