(First posted at RealGM)
POST-FIRST YEAR ASSESSMENT
- 2,259 minutes
- -11.8 pace-adjusted plus-minus
- 13.2 PER
Russell was evidently not provided the best environment to succeed in his first year as a pro. Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour sabotaged much of the Lakers’ season and Byron Scott didn’t organize the team particularly well once the nonsense dialed down a bit midway through the year.
There are also rumors that Russell was a particularly immature 19-year-old. There are no specifics to his childish behavior easily available to find, other than his secretly recording Nick Young talking about how he managed to cheat on his girlfriend and then having that video leak out.
On the court, Russell was OK towards the end of the season. He averaged 19.8 points and 4.4 assists per 40 minutes after the All Star break but did so on 40.1% shooting and against 3.3 turnovers per 40 minutes. Lineups with him on the floor allowed 110.3 points per 100 possessions.
Russell’s top skill at Ohio State was his shot creation out of the pick-and-roll. That hasn’t been as much of a killer in the NBA as first thought, as he averaged just 0.71 point per possession attempting a shot off a ball-screen and turned it over on 20.1% of such possessions last season.
But I think it’s fair to pin the issue of inefficiency on the ecosystem, though. LA’s only true stretch big man on the roster was Ryan Kelly; he logged just 470 minutes, a chunk of them as a wing, and missed 32 of his 37 three-point shots. There were a few times Scott did experiment with Bryant as the tallest wing on the floor in a four-out lineup, but the vast majority of the time the Lakers had two big men near the paint, permitting the defense to clog up driving lanes.
Russell is not blameless either, of course. There were plenty of times where it seemed clear he decided the moment he crossed half-court that he was going to launch a pull-up three-pointer off the high ball-screen no matter what. But that’s something that he can be reasonably expected to grow out of over time, especially because Russell has not shown to be a particularly selfish player in terms of looking off teammates.
He has, in fact, proven himself a very good passer on the move, showcasing nice vision coming off the screen and spotting cutters diving to the lane or weak-side shooters rotating into open spots. If Luke Walton in fact plans on installing a similar offense to the Warriors, I don’t think he’ll find a problem having Russell hit all the moving targets.
And, as mentioned by many, Russell also projects to be a good fit as the igniter of that sort of offense. Aside from proving able to make split-second reads on the move, he’s shown he can make pull-ups. Russell doesn’t have lightning speed coming off the screen and has a bit of a set shot but is crafty enough using change of speeds to get wherever he wants on the court and get good enough separation to get his shots off. Russell converted just 35% of his 439 pull-ups in his first year as pro, including just 33.1% from three-point range, but the hope is a more disciplined shot selection under the influence of a more organized system can improve those.
Other concerns raised were interior scoring and defense.
As mentioned previously, Russell didn’t have many clear paths to the basket to score there in bunches but his numbers are nonetheless unimpressive. He shot just 56.3% within five feet, had 15.3% of his such attempts blocked and earned just 3.5 free throws per 40 minutes.
Russell is not a particularly sick athlete but that was already known at around draft time. He can’t attack the basket with much explosiveness but his touch on non-dunk finishes is OK, especially on floaters from the in-between area. Therefore, it’s unclear if that’s a weakness that will end up mattering yet.
But the defense concern identified a year ago has translated into a problem in the pros. Russell has length to crowd passing lanes and overwhelm opposing point guards, who tend to be smaller than him on most nights. But he doesn’t play with much energy trying to navigate over screens and it’s unclear if he has enough lateral quickness to guard these smaller guards, who tend to be much quicker than him, on a nightly basis.
Aside from the fact the Lakers allowed 110.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor last season, opponents averaged 1.13 points per possession in isolation against Russell – the third worst mark in the league among players who guarded at least 50 such possessions.
Despite the fact one full season has come and gone, it’s still unclear if the Lakers are good for Russell or if Russell was a wise investment by the Lakers. That’s because last season was such a circus and essentially worthless that it’s impossible to accurately state one way or the other. Russell has shown some good, has shown some bad and the Lakers are making some changes. It’s a clean slate from now on.
 A leap I think we should hold off making.
 Six-foot-nine wingspan.
 Other than the fact it was good for them to lose a ton and keep their draft pick.
Editor’s Note: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara