Dubs Lead

Russell Finding His Place with Warriors

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The 2019-20 Dubs aren’t the Warriors team D’Angelo Russell envisioned after his trade from the Nets. Russell traveled to the Bay Area, thinking of how to find his place alongside Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and, down the road, Klay Thompson.

Instead, players like Eric Paschall, Ky Bowman, and Glenn Robinson III surround him. A significant difference from the superstars he played against season after season.

Pair the injured supporting cast with Russell’s injuries, and you have a disaster looming in a blooming superstar’s young career. But much of the criticism of Russell’s signing amounts to how his game would fit with Curry and Thompson. With those two gone, Russell is blending his style of play with the Warriors brand of basketball and learning his limitations and advantages.

Pick-and-Roll

With no Curry and Thompson, Russell flourishes in the traditional Warriors pick-and-roll system with Green.

Take this play towards the end of the fourth quarter against Chicago. This pick-and-roll left D’Angelo trapped in the top left of the screen.

Russell’s ability to draw defenders well beyond the 3-point arc helps open the floor for Draymond’s patented 4-on-3 plays. As a result, Russell took advantage of the double team and found Draymond, who made the easy alley-oop pass to Robinson.

Here’s a look at a different execution of the same play just minutes earlier.

https://twitter.com/warriors/status/1203148033778683904

Here, Kris Dunn tries to go over Draymond, leaving Wendell Carter Jr. on an island. Russell’s score-first mindset takes a backseat as he passes up the deep shot and quickly finds Draymond, who gets another 4-on-3 and throws the alley-oop to Cauley-Stein.

Within a couple of minutes, Russell facilitated two clutch baskets with two passes that led to assists. He’s tied for 25th in secondary assists this season, up slightly from his 31st place finish in the category last season. He’s trending upward in that statistic, so he should move further up the leaderboard. However, he still falls behind Curry, who has finished in the top-5 each of the last four years. Also, the team is down almost one full secondary assist per game.

If Russell utilizes the pick-and-roll with Draymond against other teams, he should force defenders to play off of him to protect the pass. This strategy gives him more space to play in his creative style or pull up for an open 3-pointer. The chemistry with Draymond will be crucial. It’s what made the Curry-Green pick-and-rolls so deadly. From the small sample size of 12 games, the chemistry between Russell and Green seems to be growing.

https://twitter.com/ClutchPointsApp/status/1204267900887977989

Pure Scoring

Scoring is where Russell looks his best. And yet, it’s also where he looks least like a Warrior. Most of his baskets come off isolation plays or possessions where he is the only one to touch the ball. It’s the furthest style from Warriors basketball.

However, in a season where the core of the Warriors dynasty is on the sideline, Russell will have nights where he must take over. The goal will be to balance this with the Warriors ball-screen offense. He showed glimpses of it against the Timberwolves. Take a look at the play at the 2:03 mark of the video. He’s matched up in isolation against Karl-Anthony Towns. What’s not shown is the screen that forced Towns to switch onto Russell, giving Russell the mismatch and a better scoring opportunity.

Those mismatches created by forcing defenders to switch are what made Curry dangerous. In time, Russell can learn to adapt his game to the offense and create better opportunities for himself. Unfortunately, he still has games like Monday night against the Grizzlies, where poor shot selection leads him to go 6-for-22 from the field for just 18 points.

He Still Has Time

Due to injury, Russell only played in 13 of the 25 Warriors games so far this season. Since returning, his free throw attempts have gone down, hinting at a hesitancy to drive to the basket and use his full repertoire. With glimpses of his potential shown, Russell’s stock should continue to trend upward as his confidence returns, and he learns the intricacies of Warriors basketball.

Lucky for him, he doesn’t need to be good right away. The Warriors won’t make the playoffs as the team takes the year off to regroup. He has time to learn and can treat the regular season as practice in game-like scenarios. The pick-and-rolls will get better. The passing will get better. The shot selection will get better. D’Lo will get better, and next season, the Warriors will be better off for it.

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About Jacob Shiffer

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