On Monday night, D'Angelo Russell scored 26 points on 13 field goal attempts to lead the Los Angeles Lakers past the Golden State Warriors 78-65 and improve to 3-0 in the Las Vegas Summer League and claim a first round bye in the tournament phase of the competition.
Russell only played 24 minutes and sat for the duration of the fourth quarter, after the Lakers' combo-guard caught fire from three-point land in the first half. Russell hit four of his six long-range attempts and made seven of his 10 field goal attempts to scored 22 points in the first half, at which stage the Lakers led by 16 points.
With every passing game, the fact that Russell is not a pure point guard becomes more and more apparent. For starters, Russell has recorded more turnovers, 15, than assists, 12, over the first three games of NBA Summer League play.
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However, Russell fits the mold of the modern NBA player.
More accurately, Russell fits the mold of Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors' point guard and reigning two-time NBA Most Valuable Player. Modeling his game after Curry, Russell has honed in on using his dribbling ability to create the required separation needed to launch a clear long range three-pointer. The quick release and the heightened accuracy make it impossible not to compare Russell with Curry.
"I just try to really model my game after Steph Curry," Russell said after his LA Lakers draft workout in 2015, before the Lakers selected him with the no. 2 overall pick. "With his success, he didn't come into the league playing the way he's playing now. It took some time, and the player that he's developed to be, I see a great resemblance."
Russell added, "(Curry's) ball handling is off the charts. His shot selection is similar to mine. But his work ethic to get him to where he's at is, I would say, similar to mine also."
Based on three games of NBA Summer League play, Russell has clearly worked on his dribbling ability and has improved his ball-handling skills. The 20-year-old Lakers' guard, though, is not Curry or on Curry's level, yet. Still, the three-point shot has improved and the speed at which Russell can launch an accurate attempt already resembles Curry's special, special talent.
Russell has several similar characteristics, but he is slightly taller and, well, not the greatest shooter in NBA history. Also, Curry is a better passer. Curry is a point guard that can shoot, while Russell is a shooter that can pass. There's a subtle difference there, but it's important.
While Summer League is hardly a true testing ground for NBA improvement, Russell displayed this same type of long range shot making ability at times in the latter half of his rookie season. In his best outing of the 2015-16 season, Russell scored 39 points on 21 shots, including 8-12 from three-point land.
The Lakers selected Russell over Jahlil Okafor in the 2016 NBA Draft with an eye to the direction of the NBA. Curry was a league MVP, while centers and post players appeared to be a dying breed. At this junction, LA made the correct selection. Russell has all the talent to excel by taking advantage of the same techniques that revolutionized the NBA at an accelerated rate over the past couple of seasons.
All the comparisons to Curry are not positive, of course. Russell is also not exactly the quickest player on the court, nor is he an especially good defender. Athletically, the former Ohio State guard simply isn't blessed with Russell Westbrook's explosiveness or Chris Paul's physicality. Curry struggles in the same areas, but Russell's 6-foot 5-inch frame allows the Lakers' combo-guard to work in the post and should also help on defensive recoveries.
As a reminder, though, Russell is only 20 years young.
Monday night marked the third straight 20-plus point game from Russell at the NBA Summer League and the third straight win for the Lakers. With Russell acting as the MVP of the NBA Summer League, the fourth and fifth games shouldn't offer any different results. For a change, LA has a legitimate chance to win the competition.
Tuesday is an off day, and playoffs are set to start on Wednesday. Thanks to a bye, LA will start its tournament play on Thursday in Round 2. If the Lakers continue to progress, the quarterfinals would be held on Saturday, followed by the semifinals on Sunday and the finals on Monday, July 18.
Incidentally, Russell is due to take part in Team USA training camp as a member of the USA Select Team on Monday, July 18 in Las Vegas. LA's no. 2 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft Brandon Ingram, who is also a member of the Lakers' Summer League team, is also scheduled to be a member of the USA Select Team.
Julius Randle, who is not taking part in the 2016 NBA Summer League, attended Monday's game and will be the other Lakers' player at the Team USA camp in Las Vegas.