Whereas LeBron James literally delivered a blow to D’Angelo Russell’s manhood by way of a basketball to the tackle box, Lakers coach Byron Scott figuratively did the same by reducing the playing time for the team’s 2015 first-round draft pick — and No. 2 overall — over the last couple of months.
That, however, has changed. Per Scott, the Lakers are now all-in with Russell, who will start the rest of the season.
“Each month he has seemed to get better,” Scott said via ESPN.com. “He’s really starting to understand what this game is all about. He still needs to pick it up at times. Obviously on both ends he needs to continue to work, but I like what I saw [Sunday], and I like what I’ve been seeing from him over the last couple months.”
Questions about Russell’s playing time have been frequent, though Russell has by all accounts handled the situation well on the surface. At the very least, such questions should be reduced.
Russell, the No. 2 overall pick out of Ohio State, returned to the starting lineup against the Bulls on Sunday and notched 15 points with six assists in 34 minutes. “I just want to play the right way. If that’s coming off the bench or starting, I just want to make an impact right away,” Russell told ESPN. “I wish we could’ve won, just so I could feel better about it. But I trust coach’s decision and go with it.”
There have been moments in which Russell has looked like a pick of that caliber, but they haven’t lasted. At this point, however, Scott’s committed to developing a future face of the team. Going back to putting Russell on the bench during key stretches in games — or not starting him at all — is only going to ignite further confusion.
If nothing else, the Lakers are 11-46 and on track for the worst season in franchise history. If there’s going to be a time to let Russell do his thing, including the ensuing rookie mistakes, now would be it.