While watching the Lakers take apart Indiana on Friday night, an ESPN announcer did something completely unexpected: he said something possibly brilliant.
To be honest, I didn’t want to look up the announcer’s name. It was 1 a.m. in my time zone when he said it and frankly it’s going to be many months before an ESPN announcer doesn’t substitute tired pop culture references for analysis, so why bother?
He lauded rookie small forward Brandon Ingram as so skilled and versatile, he could also serve as a point guard. The No. 2-overall pick in the 2016 draft has played guard for the Lakers earlier this year when the team was losing players to injury. Coach Luke Walton saw playing Ingram at the point as a way to get the rookie — who has a reputation for on-court acumen — some extra time.
Considering the Lakers have very little set in stone with its current roster, switching Ingram to guard is a distinct possibility.
Because point guard D’Angelo Russell, a No. 2-overall pick from the 2015 NBA Draft, isn’t performing at a level you would want. Russell, who was selected because Lakers officials were wowed by his on-court decision-making, currently ranks at No. 41 in the NBA assists rankings at an underwhelming 4.4 per game.
That’s behind former Lakers Jeremy Lin and Jordan Farmar. It’s one thing to be behind the Clippers Chris Paul. Russell is also behind Blake Griffin.
Oh, but Russell has cracked the top 20 in turnovers per game. He lets the other team have the ball 2.6 times per game, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but only 19 players in the entire league are worse.
In what many armchair GMs consider a guard-oriented league, that simply isn’t any good.
You don’t want to root for people to get injured. Having said that, you almost have to wonder if Russell’s tumble in the first minute of last night’s game, during which he injured the medial collateral ligament of his right knee, actually helped the team. Without Russell, the Lakers struggled to get their footing, but pulled away in the second half with Ingram controlling the ball. The Lakers led by 20 at one point.
So I get it: You don’t trade Russell because he’s only in his second year and it goes against common sense to abandon ship on someone you invested the No. 2-overall draft pick on. You certainly don’t do it in one game where Ingram took over and excelled.
But at this point, the Lakers don’t have three budding young stars on their roster like their fans want to believe. They might have two — maybe — in Ingram and forward Julius Randle. Russell is the weak link, inconsistent, turnover-prone and pointlessly cocky. He needs to spend less time pointing at his antecubital when he makes a shot. You don’t have ice in your veins, player. Not when you average a very pedestrian 14.3 points per game.
It behooves Russell to humble down and focus on professionalism, because the Lakers franchise is popular, but the actual team is struggling to reach mediocrity. If he can’t figure out what he’s doing, he’ll be out of the league before he turns 25, watching Ingram run the offense on TV.