LA Lakers Rookie D’Angelo Russell Is Turning Heads While Finishing Strong

Before he sprained his ankle in Friday night's game against the Denver Nuggets, D'Angelo Russell's rookie season had finally hit the fast track. The steady evolution within various areas of his game has been easy to see, and all progress is good progress considering where he was earlier in the year.

The first couple of months of Russell’s NBA career were, more or less, a soul-crushing slog. 

Seemingly every weakness jammed deep inside his college scouting report surfaced before all of the good stuff could: He settled for pull-up mid-range jump shots when more effective drives into the paint were available. He lacked lateral quickness on the defensive end, couldn’t finish around the basket and wasn’t hitting outside shots—particularly those off-the-dribble sparks that separate elite point guards from the very good.

It was a tad worrisome but thankfully not a death blow.

During his first 20 games, all starts, the then-19-year-old averaged 11.0 points (on 1.1 free-throw attempts), 4.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.2 turnovers in 27.7 minutes every game. He shot 41 percent from the floor and 31.7 percent behind the three-point line.

Game 21, Lakers head coach Byron Scott removed him from the starting lineup. 

During that opening stretch and after he came off the bench, Russell sat through numerous fourth quarters for one reason or another—little of the demotion was understandable, considering the Lakers’ sole objective this season should’ve been to play and develop young pieces like Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Anthony Brown as much as possible. 

But signs of growth shone through the inconsistent playing time. Russell’s outside shot started to fall, he steadily increased his aggressiveness and he began navigating the pick-and-roll like a seven-year veteran. 

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