Well before he dazzled the crowd with pinpoint passes and timely shots, D’Angelo Russell performed another feat that would have sent nearly everyone into frenzy.
The Lakers’ rookie point guard sat at halfcourt. He performed a situp. He then launched a shot that banked into the basket. The video quickly went viral, but there marked one person that shook his head dismissively when asked if the play impressed him.
“No not really,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “On his back, throwing it up, then making his feet clap all around like he was just so joyful that he made it. I wasn’t real impressed about it.”
Instead, Scott sounded more impressed with something else. He praised his 20-year-old point guard by striking a better balance with both his “playfulness” and improving his work habits.
“It shows that innocence he still has. I don’t want that to go away just yet.,” Scott said chuckling. “The other thing is when we start practice, he’s serious. He works. As long as he can separate the two, I’m good with it.”
Only a month ago, Scott had argued that he granted a bigger role to Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving his rookie season four years ago because Irving was “a little bit more mature” with his work habits. Scott also argued Irving “didn’t have any weaknesses offensively” before winning NBA’s Rookie of the Year honors in the 2011-12 season after leading his class in points (18.5), ranking second in assists (5.4) and finishing third minutes played (30.5).
Meanwhile, Russell often worked before and after practice on his shot, ball handling and post moves with Lakers assistants Thomas Scott and Larry Lewis. Russell also completed the same routine about 2 1/2 hours before each game. But Russell has often concluded his sessions attempting half-court heaves or one-handed 3-pointers.
But since becoming a starter for the past nine games, Russell has averaged 20.7 points, 4.8 assists and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 48.2% both from the field and from 3-point range. Scott credited that partly toward Russell’s changed demeanor.
“He works harder in practice now,” Scott said. “The light for him has come on. Before we start practice he’s a little bit of a clown at times, which is fun and great. But when we bring it in and we start practice, he’s serious. That is great.”
Scott still recalled Irving experiencing hiccups on defense and with arriving to the gym early, but credited Irving for quickly changing his routine. That same evolution apparently has happened for Russell.
“He doesn’t necessarily love being here 30 minutes earlier than everybody. But he does it,” Scott said. “When practice is over, he stays on the floor and gets more shots up. He works on his game. You have to love that about him.”
Well, except for one thing. Despite the video of Russell’s half-court shot going viral, Scott did not consider the feat that difficult.
“If you do it everyday for about 20 shots,” Scott said, “obviously you’re going to make one sooner or later.”