(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Opinions about both Kobe Bryant and D’Angelo Russell are slowly starting to shift in the opposite direction of where they were just 3 weeks ago.
The low mark for Bryant this season was in Golden State where he scored a putrid 4 points in 24 minutes and shot an all-time worst 1 for 14 from the field (when shooting more than 10 shots.) Bryant’s anemic shooting after that game brought his overall field goal percentage down to 31.1 percent and 19.5 percent from 3.
Outrage from fans and media was in full fledged following the performance in Oakland and continued until he made his retirement announcements a few days later which softened the criticism but did not completely eliminate it.
Discontent from the fans and the day to day narrative of concern about his future potential from the media was something that D’Angelo Russell experienced early in the season because of his slow start.
For simplicity, we use the same mark in the season as Kobe of the November 24th game against the Warriors; Russell was shooting 40.1 percent from the field and averaging 10.1 points per game which aren’t terribly low numbers for a rookie, but taking into considertion the hot starts from other fellow rookies, such as Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis who were all drafted in the top 4 with Russell, it exacerbated the anxiety and concern.
Those on the far and negative end of the spectrum threw out words like washed-up and done for Bryant and for Russell the most vicious word possible for a high draft pick was thrown out, a Bust.
Over the last 5 games both players have made a significant improvement in their play to the point that has quieted many of the their harshest critics.
Bryant and Russell have quickly developed into the Lakers one-two punch on offense, taking a combined 30 shots a game between the two over the 5 game span and leading the Lakers in scoring, respectively.
Much of the credit for the improved play from Russell is due to his increased level of aggression which was sorely lacking at the beginning of the year. Another factor is that Bryant has taken a step back in controlling the offense which has allowed more touches for Russell to the point that he leads the team in field goal attempts over the last 5 games.
The improved play from both Bryant and Russell hasn’t translated to improvement in the win-loss column as the team has gone 1-4 in that same stretch. The lone win coming in impressive fashion last night against the Milwaukee Bucks, a 113-95 win, their first game back from the Lakers’ 8 game road trip.
This last 5 game stretch is too small a sample size to assert that Bryant has returned to his old form or Russell has definitely left behind the bust tag, but it is a nice small sign of improvement in both players after their terrible start to the season.