The difference between halves Monday showed the difference in D’Angelo Russell’s game in this summer league.
In the first half of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 78-65 win over the Golden State Warriors at the Thomas & Mack Center, the point guard dazzled, scoring 13 points in the final four minutes with a deft shooting touch.
In the second half, he deferred, scoring four points while getting his teammates involved.
It’s a mix Lakers coaches are trying to instill in the 2015 NBA Draft’s second pick for the post-Kobe Bryant era, and one Russell is embracing in his second year in the NBA Summer League.
“He’s finding his way. I give him so much credit for being so coachable,” Lakers summer coach Jesse Mermuys said. “For him to have that type of burst at the end of the first half and then come out in the second half and really try to buckle in on what we’re trying to do, he’s been awesome.”
Russell, 20, has almost doubled his scoring output this summer league compared to last. He’s averaging 22.7 points, the fifth-highest in the league, in three games after averaging 11.8 in five games last summer.
His rebounding and assist totals are also up to 6.7 and 4.0 per game.
“Guys, they get the first year under their belt, you come back with a different swagger, a different confidence, a different pace to your game,” Russell said. “With my pace, I know I’m a point guard, so I still got to get better every game and treat it like it’s a playoff game.”
Teammate Anthony Brown said one of the biggest differences he’s seen is Russell’s efficiency. He is eliminating unnecessary shots, unnecessary dribbles, and as a result his field-goal percentage has soared to .533, including .471 from 3-point range.
“His confidence is at an all-time high,” Brown said. “Just him coming out here and even playing, I think he just wanted to show just how much he’s been working.”
Russell admits there’s only so much he can show during the summer league, seeing how he isn’t “guarding All-Stars every night.”
He’s still been willing to assert himself on the court and with teammates during the Lakers’ 3-0 start. During the Warriors game, he reminded center Ivica Zubac to keep his arms up on defense, and after a foul, Russell showed the big man where he should have been positioned.
In the second half, Russell stood up on the bench to yell at teammate Trevor Lacey to get back to the ball on an inbounds play.
“He’s great,” said Zubac, a second-round draft pick this year from Croatia. “He passes the ball, he sees everything. I really love to play with him.”
Russell also chided his team for a poor defensive effort after the victory, saying his shooting and Golden State’s missed shots bailed out the Lakers.
The guard said locking in on defense is one of his focuses this summer, along with his post-up game.
All the while, though, he has displayed the playmaking that made him such a coveted and entertaining prospect out of Ohio State.
Late in the game Monday, with the outcome all but decided and the point guard on the bench, young fans started to shout, “We want Russell!”
Los Angeles likely is going to want this version of him, too.
Ben Gotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BenSGotz