The progression did not come quickly enough for Lakers coach Byron Scott. So much that Scott reduced D’Angelo Russell’s ball-handling duties. He sat him out in the fourth quarter both in its entirety and in crucial moments. He has also demoted Russell’s role to the bench.
But through all that, Scott argued that Russell has “been working” before practices and shootarounds on almost everything, ranging from his outside shooting and film study. Scott also praised Russel for remaining “pretty coachable” and “receptive” to his feedback.
“That’s one of the reasons why he’s played so well,” Scott said. “It’s starting to pay dividends for us.”
The Lakers secured a 113-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday at Staples Center partly because of Russell’s presence. He posted 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go along with seven assists, four rebounds and three steals in 30 minutes off the bench.
That mirrors Russell’s production over the last four games where he has averaged 19.5 points and five assists per contests. Yet, that has coincided with Russell coming off the bench and then starting for two games while Jordan Clarkson stayed sidelined with a sprained right ankle.
So what enabled Russell to produce regardless of both the lineup he plays and the minutes Scott affords him?
“I just didn’t let it bother me,” Russell said. “I found ways I can get better from it. It looks like it’s working out well.”
Russell said he spent that time on the bench studying the game and gaining a better understanding what makes his teammates force the issue. He then would enter the lineup trying to avoid the same mistake.
So far, so good.
Teammates have become more prepared for his passes that he zips with pinpoint speed. Russell has aggressively looked more for his shot. Regardless of when Bryant is on the floor, Russell has more of a command of the offense.
“He’s reading the floor of the game much better,” Bryant said. “That comes with time and experience. It seems like he’s more comfortable with the tempo of the game. Instead of reacting to plays, he can read in advance what’s going to happen. That puts him in more control.”
It also puts Russell in a more comfortable position on what to do on the floor.
“Just looking at everything, letting the plays happen,” Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson said of Russell. “He’s doing a great job. I think he’s figuring out where his spots are on the court, in terms of when to shoot it and when to make a play.”
Scott believed that Russell has shown more confidence throughout this process. But Russell has argued he has never lacked confidence in his play or abilities. He simply encountered tactical adjustments, such as avoiding over-thinking, figuring out the Bryant dynamic and adapting to the NBA’s pace.
That explains why plenty have argued Scott should have given Russell opportunities earlier. After all, Russell partly struggled with his adjustments because of his decreased role. But Scott has argued otherwise, believing that his delayed opportunities spawned great work habits.
“The balance part is trying to figure out what’s best for the young man, both short term and long term,” Scott said. “Getting off to not a great start was great for him as well. It put everything in perspective where he had to work harder at this level. Talent is not just good enough. He wants to be great. I think he’s starting to realize that.”