The Los Angeles Lakers season tips off on Wednesday and in preparation they are shoring up their roster by making final cuts and setting their starting line-up. It seemed that the coaching staff had already decided on the starting 5 which was the line-up that they rolled out there for the first 2 games of the pre-season: Randle, Bryant, Hibbert, Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell.
Byron Scott revealed to reporters this week that most of the starting 5 is set except for one position.
Lakers will start Kobe, Clarkson, Hibbert, Randle + an unknown 5th player, Byron said. He's not quite ready to commit to D'Angelo as starter
— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) October 26, 2015
The news is surprising to many considering the high draft position of Russell with him being the Lakers’ number two overall pick in this year’s draft and that many outside of the Lakers organization see this as another lost season where it only makes sense to develop the young talent on the roster.
The news is not surprising for those that still believe a player needs to earn his time on the court by performing which Randle definitely did in the preseason and Russell did not.
Randle followed up his disappointing play in Summer League with a strong showing in the preseason. Randle showed improved poise in his game by allowing more of the offense to come to him and not constantly forcing the action which he exhibited frequently in Summer League play.
Randle scored in double figures in 5 straight preseason games and looked dominant offensively at times with his rare combo of size, quickness and ball handling ability for a power forward. Randle finished the preseason by averaging 11.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting 48.6 percent from the field which was good enough to out play veteran Brandon Bass and earning the starting power forward spot.
D’Angelo Russell on the other hand struggled in preseason but it wasn’t due to a lack of time on the floor as he started in 5 of the 7 preseason games in which he appeared. He showed flashes of what he can do scoring the basket by finding his spots in the perimeter and knocking down his very nice looking mid-range shot which was off the mark overall but still impressive in his ability to get space with hesitation moves, a quick release and smooth stroke. The difficulties he showed were in him running the point guard position.
Russell didn’t turn the ball over very much but seemed to avoid taking many chances as he did in Summer League and struggled to get by defenders and get in the teeth of the defenses. Russell averaged a modest 3.3 assists in 17.0 minutes per game and shot a very inefficient 38.6 percent from the field.
Russell’s lackluster play at the point was compounded by what fellow rookie Marcelo Huartes was able to do in comparison. Huartes was impressive at running the offense and his impact was seen almost immediately upon entering his first game against the Golden State Warriors. The minute Huartes entered the game the pace changed, the ball moved with him making quick and decisive decisions which lead to good shot by teammates. Like Russell, Huartes lacks great quickness but makes great use of screens to get space and seems to be in constant motion while on the floor with the ball. Huartes led the Lakers in assists with an average of 6 per game in 17.8 minutes.
Russell could still get the starting nod come Wednesday but if he doesn’t it will solidify the Lakers’ coaching staff’s plan to put together the team that places them in the best position to win right now and doing so over what many basketball pundits out there feel they should focus on which is develop the young talent at all costs including potential wins. With the old school mindset of Coach Scott combined with his history of playing to win every game during the Showtime era it would be hard to believe he makes any decision that isn’t in the best interest of the Lakers winning now. The Lakers being in the best position to win might include D’Angelo Russell one day but that day does not seem to be today.