How D’Angelo Russell Can Take the Next Step as an Offensive Player
Coming into the NBA, D’Angelo Russell was given high expectations as a player, and that is reasonable considering how he was the second overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft. However, before he can emerge as a reliable high-volume scorer, he is going to have to improve his efficiency as a scorer. Russell saw improvement in his volume statistics going from his rookie season to his sophomore year.
From an overall efficiency standpoint, D’Angelo Russell was below average (0.853 PPP, 28th percentile) as an offensive player in his rookie year. He didn’t see much improvement considering how he was still below average (0.875 PPP, 29th percentile) in his offensive efficiency. However, his effectiveness climbed when factoring in his possessions with assists, as he generated 1.188 points per possession (58th percentile) last season, compared to 1.105 points per possession (36th percentile) during his rookie season.
P&R Ball Handler
Considering D’Angelo Russell was a pick-and-roll ball handler 39.6 percent of the time and had just average (0.76 PPP, 41st percentile) execution, I would say that it should be a priority for him to improve in this area. When his passes are factored into the equation, his production rises to 0.804 points per possession, but his ranking compared to the rest of the NBA fell to the 28th percentile.
The central area he needs improve the most in is against defensive commitments. In these situations, Russell was below average (0.775 PPP, 19th percentile) on his pass outs, and these plays accounted for a total of 414 possessions. The most significant red flag was that he turned the ball over 26.8 percent of the time. While it would help if his 50 percent adjusted field goal percentage and 7.5 percent frequency of getting to the free throw line improved, a good start would be to cut down on turnovers.
D’Angelo Russell had a decent foundation in single covered pick-and-rolls, as his production was average (0.918 PPP, 48th percentile) last season, and there was a good sample size of 364 possessions. Something that intrigued me was that he only turned the ball over three percent of the time. The next step for him will be to increase his scoring efficiency from a 43.6 percent adjusted field goal percentage. It would also help for him to get to the free throw line more than 8.2 percent of the time too, but that is a good foundation to grow.
If we want to take it a step further, Russell was much better on right side pick-and-rolls than on the left side. For reference, he was good (1.03 PPP, 63rd percentile) in 66 possessions on right side pick-and-rolls while being just below average (0.817 PPP, 21st percentile) in 71 possessions on left side pick-and-rolls. The most significant factor was that his adjusted field goal percentage on the right side was 48.4 percent while being just 39.8 percent on the left side. For reference, the frequency for turnovers was only 4.2 percent, and for free throws seven percent on the left side, while being three percent for turnovers and 7.6 percent for free throw attempts on the right side.
On high pick-and-rolls, Russell was average (0.916 PPP, 44th percentile) in a sample size of 227 possessions. There is now a clear pattern here considering how he had just a 43.4 percent adjusted field goal percentage while only turning the ball over 2.6 percent of the time and getting to the free throw line 8.8 percent of the time. His scoring efficiency needs to improve, but he took great care of the basketball while getting to the free throw line at a stable rate. It’s interesting because that is mostly the same in each area of the pick-and-roll.
The final main component of pick-and-roll ball handling is facing traps, and Russell was very good (1.083 PPP, 79th percentile) in these situations. His pass outs resulted in a 66.7 percent adjusted field goal percentage, but where the main improvement needs to happen is turning the ball over less than 20.8 percent of the time and creating free throw attempts more than 8.3 percent of the time. The sample size was only 24 possessions, but it’s still intriguing nonetheless.
Something that strongly held down Russell’s overall offensive efficiency was his production in transition, considering how his execution was below average (0.928 PPP, 21st percentile), and it was his second most frequency play type with a 12.3 percent frequency. He could see improvement across the board in the main types of statistical output as a transition player, as he produced a 53.7 percent adjusted field goal percentage and turned the ball over 15.9 percent of the time and got the free throw line 8.7 percent of the time.
The guard spent most of the time in transition as a ball-handler, and the results were troubling. For reference, 57.2 percent of his possessions were as a ball-handler, and his output was below average (0.747 PPP, 21st percentile) in these situations. The most significant factor that held his production down was producing just a 46.2 percent adjusted field goal percentage, but it didn’t help that he turned the ball over 24.1 percent of the time and only got to the free throw line 11.4 percent of the time.
D’Angelo Russell struggled when filling the wings in transition because of a lack of scoring efficiency. He was only average (1 PPP, 33rd percentile) when filing the left wing, and these plays happened 20.3 percent of the time. As for the right wing, those plays only occurred 3.6 percent of the time, and Russell created 1.2 points per possession. The problem that he had when filling either wing in transition was that he had just a 50 percent adjusted field goal percentage on both sides. Russell was at his best on leak outs, which created 1.75 points per possession but occurred only 5.8 percent of the time. His scoring was extraordinarily efficient because he had an 87.5 percent adjusted field goal percentage.
D’Angelo Russell provided positive contributions as a spot-up player last season for the Los Angeles Lakers. His production was good (0.984 PPP, 56th percentile), and these plays accounted for 11.5 percent of his offensive possessions, which was his third-most frequent form of offense. The key for him is to take the next step from an efficiency standpoint as a scorer. He had a 50.4 percent adjusted field goal percentage, which isn’t bad, but he’ll need improvement to reach a rating of very good. Also, he only turned the ball over 1.6 percent of the time and got to the free throw line 0.8 percent, which is easily explained when looked at in detail.
It was clear what his favorite method of scoring out of spot-ups was, as he attempted a no-dribble jumper on 76.7 percent of his possessions. His results were good (1.071 PPP, 52nd percentile) as a no dribble shooter, but the other areas are where he will need to see improvement. He was poor (0.6 PPP, 13th percentile) on dribble jumpers and took them 11.6 percent of the time. Another issue was that he only drove to the basket 6.2 percent of the time, and he created just 0.75 points per possession. He then took a runner 3.9 percent of the time and generated 1.2 points per possession.
An area where Russell indeed thrived was on handoff plays, considering how his execution was excellent (1.088 PPP, 84th percentile), and these sequences accounted for 9.1 percent of his offensive plays. It didn’t necessarily matter what type of handoff it was a result of since his production was very good (1.081 PPP, 74th percentile) on dribble handoffs, and he was very good (1.1 PPP, 82nd percentile) on stationary handoffs. He should mostly keep doing what he’s been doing in this area, but one goal could be to cut his turnovers down from a 12.5 percent frequency on the stationary handoff plays.
Another area where Russell thrived was on isolation, considering how his execution was very good (0.988 PPP, 68th percentile), and these plays occurred 7.6 percent of the time. When factoring in his passing, he was excellent (1.1 PPP, 92nd percentile) as an isolation threat. Russell was excellent (1.154 PPP, 90th percentile) on drives (including pull-up jumpers) and did so 61.2 percent of the time. However, he was below average (0.667 PPP, 21st percentile) when he took a jumper (no drive), and these sequences accounted for 35.3 percent of the time.
The third-year player had success as an off-screen shooter, considering how he was good (0.983 PPP, 61st percentile) from an overview standpoint. However, it wasn’t a significant part of his skill-set, as he only did it 5.2 percent of the time. Russell was successful as a scorer with a 54 percent adjusted field goal percentage. What held him down from very good status was the fact that he turned the ball over 10.3 percent of the time. Getting to the free throw line only 3.4 percent of the time doesn’t help either, though.
D’Angelo Russell was much better when coming off the screen to the right, as his production was very good (1.065 PPP, 67th percentile), while he was just average (0.889 PPP, 45th percentile) when going to the left. The main difference was that his scoring efficiency and ball control was much higher when going to the right, considering how his adjusted field goal percentage was 11.2 percent better, and his frequency of turnovers was 1.4 percent less. What held his production together when coming off to the left was that he got to the free throw line 7.4 percent of the time.
The efficiency from D’Angelo Russell on overall post-up offense was only average (0.914 PPP, 48th percentile), and these plays made up 3.9 percent of his offensive possessions. However, he was good (0.932 PPP, 62nd percentile) when factoring in his passing too. He was firmly held back by a lack of scoring efficiency tied to his post-ups, considering how he produced only a 37.2 percent adjusted field goal percentage. His post-ups created a trip to the free throw line on at a terrific rate of 20.7 percent of his possessions. Russell also did a good job of limiting his giveaways, as he only turned the ball over 6.9 percent of the time.
While he didn’t do it all that often, D’Angelo Russell was very good (1.385 PPP, 74th percentile) as a cutter. It would be very beneficial for him to cut more often than just on 2.3 percent of his offensive possessions, considering how it is one of the most efficient means of scoring. It’s quite simple to analyze his production as a cutter, considering how 80.8 percent of them were basket cuts, and he was good (1.333 PPP, 54th) on that form of cutting. He did a flash cut 15.4 percent of the time and produced 1.5 points per possession, and screen cuts 3.8 percent of the time and generated two points per possession.
It’s clear that D’Angelo Russell needs to improve his efficiency significantly as a pick-and-roll ball handler and as a transition player. However, he needs to start adopting tendencies to begin valuing sequences with naturally greater efficiency. There is no reason why Russell should be cutting for only 2.3 percent of his offensive possessions. I do believe that spending more time at the shooting guard position will benefit him because he can put his skills from the nuances of off-ball offense with higher frequency. Also, playing in Kenny Atkinson’s offense should help him as a half-court playmaking threat.