As a long time lurker on r/nba, I wanted to contribute with an in-depth analysis on one of my favorite players in the league. Given the talk about trade offers and packages surrounding D’lo, I thought now was a good time to post this. D’Angelo Russell has been one of my favorite players since he was drafted in 2015 with the 2nd pick. As a Warriors fan since the 2008 We Believe team with my East team being the Nets, I’ve been lucky enough to watch a lot of highly skilled players play for both of my teams. I believe D’Angelo Russell is underrated by the general fanbase of both Warriors and NBA as a whole and I’ve included a variety of strengths, weaknesses, misconceptions, and highlights to back my argument. I’ve also included a deeper look into the advanced stats and the picture of the player that D’Angelo has the potential to become.
Let’s start with some of the measurables that we can compare to the average NBA guard. According to DraftExpress, the average height of a guard for both SG and PG is about 6’4 with shoes. The average wingspan is 6’7 and average max vertical is 36.4″. D’Angelo Russell is above average in all measurables. He stands at 6’5 with shoes with a measured wingspan of 6’9.75. This wingspan was measured at age 19, and judging by some pictures I would not be surprised if this has grown to 6’10 or even 6’11. The usual age for wingspan to stop growing is around 21 or 22 for males. His max vertical at the combine was 39″. I am sure that this number is shocking to some as Russell is not known as an athletic player, but here are some names around the NBA known for their athleticism with similar vertical numbers at the combine:
John Wall – 39″
Andre Iguodala – 34.5″
Jimmy Butler – 39″
Russell Westbrook – 36.5″
Blake Griffin – 35.5″
Is [this](https://streamable.com/2k6f0) what an [unathletic](https://streamable.com/i804f) guard [looks](https://imgur.com/EgJSCn9) like?
Now, I am acutely aware that max vertical is not what we see in a high level basketball game and it’s rare to be able to elevate to your max in a competitive environment. I am also aware that D’Angelo rarely shows off his athleticism. However, I believe this is a stylistic choice in how he chooses to play the game and utilize his strengths. He is almost always in control both with and without the ball. He is always very careful in setting up his positioning in the half court and will take his time to reposition screens to use them to their highest effectiveness. In this way, he reminds me of James Harden who also doesn’t explode off your computer screen with his athleticism although it’s clear that they both possess it. Another part of athleticism that is not as easy to see is deceleration. D’Angelo has elite deceleration and can stop on a dime and get into a jump shot as [smoothly](https://streamable.com/h1ikn) as anyone else in the league. Seriously, check out how tough that shot is.
The main two things I see missing in terms of athleticism are:
1. Slow lateral movement making it easy for other guards to blow past him:
2. Lack of a quick first step to allow him to blow by his defender easily. More on this later.
**2019/20 Season Advanced Stats and Changes Adjusting to the Warriors Offensive System:**
In the 2019/20 season, D’Angelo Russell will be **24 years old** in his fifth season. His averages on this season are **24/3.6/6.3/1** in 32 mpg.
As a D’Angelo Russell fan, I knew his game came with a lot of pull-up jumpers and was heavily reliant on his pick and roll threat to get to most of his spots. I believed he would not be able to contribute off ball as much as he already has this season and thought it’d take much more time to get accustomed to the Warriors brand of basketball. Through 30 games for the Warriors this year, I no longer hold this bias and I am getting increasingly excited to watch him to play alongside Klay and Curry.
Some key areas of improvement over last seasons All Star berth:
– Increase in **FTA** from 2.5 to **4.4**. This is a key increase that is necessary in increasing efficiency and becoming a star guard in the league. The top guards all are able to draw FT at a respectable rate and he has more than doubled this.
– Shooting **72% at the rim** with cuts off the ball and [crafty finishes like this](https://streamable.com/a8b5x). This is the 100th percentile for guards and could be a bit of a fluke. When he gets to the rim this season he has been elite at finishing. However, it’s a career low attempts at the rim. Only 8% of his attempts are within 4 feet of the basket.
– Lowering **TOV%** every year since entering the league, down to a **career low 11.8%** from 15.6%
– D’Angelo is shooting **51% from long mid-range** classified as 14 feet out to inside the 3 point line. This is in the 91st percentile in efficiency and when taking into account the volume of midranges that D’Angelo takes, he can only be compared to **Chris Paul** who’s also having an amazing season from midrange. As a reference, **Kevin Durant** shot 51%, 49%, and 54% (WOW) from the same distance in his 3 years with the Warriors.
– Increase in 3P% from 36.9% on 7.8 attempts per game last year to **38.3% on 9.4 attempts per game** this year. This is an increase in efficiency and also volume! Breaking down the 3P% leads to even more interesting improvements.
– When D’Lo is [coming off a screen](https://streamable.com/pexqy), the Warriors are scoring at **1.11 PPP**. He attempts 2.9 shots a game off of this type of shot. For context, Paul George leads the league at 3.8 and D’Lo’s similar company in attempts would be **Buddy Hield**, **Joe Harris**, and other shooters known for their off ball tendencies. The efficiency can be compared to **Paul George** and **JJ Redick** at 1.12 and 1.14PPP respectively. Compare this to last year at 0.83 PPP on 0.7 attempts per game, it’s a huge bump in efficiency and scoring while more than quadrupling the attempts.
For contextual reference for all further PPP stats – in the 2019/2020 season, the Mavericks are leading the league with 1.16 PPP, Bucks are second with 1.14 PPP. League average is at 1.09 PPP.
– In **spot up** situations, his ability to function as an off ball player is even more apparent as it rises to a **1.30 PPP – in the 95th percentile amongst other elite shooters**.
– D’Angelo Russell shot 39.4% on **catch and shoot** 3’s the previous year. The number of attempts was 3.3 per game. That number has skyrocketed to a flaming **42.4% on 4.1 attempts per game**. Here are some samples of what these catch and shoot 3’s [look like](https://streamable.com/pexqy). These are not normal difficulty catch and shoots. These are **difficult** catch and shoots that are shots created through off-ball movement and threat to shoot. The sets are similar to the ones used to set up Klay and Curry for off ball shots and are coming full sprint to turn and square in the air and shoot while the defender is trailing.
– **Isolation** shots: Similar attempts per game at **2.3** to other offensive stars like Paul George, Trae Young, Bradley Beal, and Devin Booker. He scores at **1.03 PPP** in these situations similar with players like **Kawhi Leonard**, **Trae Young**, **Luka Doncic**, and **Kyrie Irving**. The ability to create a shot with a live dribble is always essential to a lineups offensive potential and also is a great bailout shot when you aren’t able to get to what you want. He’s shooting **36% on pull up 3’s at 5.4 a game**!
**Offensive Team Impact:**
– **93rd percentile in assist percentage** – this is the percentage of shots he assists teammates on while on the floor
– When D’Lo is on the court, he **increases the Warriors eFG% by 4.6%**! This is 97th percentile in the NBA. Yes, this can be attributed to the fact that his backup is probably not at an NBA level. It is still a huge increase. He also increases the number of 3’s shot at a +6% frequency, which is in the 95th percentile. For someone with his shot profile ( a lot of midrange shots), you would expect the team to shoot more midrange when he’s on the floor. This is the opposite, the team shoots 2% less midrange and 6% more from 3 because of the shots he is able to generate for teammates.
– Team shot accuracy at the rim +7.0% – 97th percentile
– Team shot accuracy at short midrange +7.7% – 94th percentile
– Team shot accuracy at long midrange +7.9% – 90th percentile.
– Team shot accuracy at all midrange +7.6% – 98th percentile
– **These are not fluky numbers, these percentage increase and percentiles show similar improvements over the last 4 years of his career.**
– His offensive BPM (OBPM) is at 5.1 this year which would put him 11th in the league. This stat is a good indicator of offensive prowess as we can note from the top 10 that they are all cornerstone pieces in the elite offenses in the NBA. This stat puts him significantly ahead of players like Butler, Anthony Davis, and Lowry while being on par with Jokic, Kemba, and Beal on offensive contribution.
– He has the [clutch gene](https://streamable.com/2gqtp). Patented celebration for clutch shots so early in his career.
– Just a [tough shot maker](https://streamable.com/n03k5). The degree of difficulty of a lot of his shots is extremely tough.
– Additionally, he has a [great pump fake](https://streamable.com/ovai4) that allows him to lose the man closing out on him and relocate to an open three pointer.
– Speaking of [relocation](https://streamable.com/29heq), D’Angelo has learned from Steph Curry the art of relocation after driving and using off ball movement to get the ball back for open shots that were generated from his initial drives.
– He has the ability to catch fire and carry an offense for quarters at a time. He can go supernova, he just has the “it” factor stars need in the NBA.
– 52 point game this season
– 35, 37 point games with 9 3’s
– 1/3 of his games with 30+
– [Awesome heat checks](https://streamable.com/94rxq)
– [Scoring first 15 points, 18 of first 27, 8 3’s at the half](https://streamable.com/t1zvj)
– [10 points straight in 1:20 gamete – consecutive 4 possessions](https://streamable.com/ga4z2)
– [12 points straight in less than a minute game time – consecutive 4 possessions](https://streamable.com/39oe4)
D’Angelo Russell is one of the best passers in the league and there aren’t many players I would put above him in terms of court vision. He can make almost any type of pass and he is very creative with his passing. Let’s break down what makes him elite.
Let’s start with [transition.](https://streamable.com/yfxar) D’Angelo Russell is great in transition. He takes his time and always seems to have a mental picture of how players are coming down the floor. He will slow down and make the right passes in delayed transition to streaking bigs, or he’ll whip a no look pass to the player cutting backdoor as he pulls the defensive attention. Even when he doesn’t actively push the pace with his handles, his outlets are sharp and accurate and delivered with a surprising zip behind them – keeping it flashy often both with look offs and no looks. He’ll also drop it off or leave it for the trailer when appropriate.
When holding the ball early in the shot clock, D’Lo doesn’t dictate how he wants the offense to set up too often. He carefully surveys the floor and will make [quick, early passes](https://streamable.com/z3cal) when his teammates pick up a sliver of an advantage. He is great at finding these tight windows and seeing his teammates open. Playing with a guard like this encourages the whole team to cut hard knowing you’ll be hit when you’re open. He is also great at finding shooters. [Imagine if these passes are going to Curry and Klay](https://streamable.com/8u70o). He is unselfish and many times will have the touch swing pass to the open shooter so quickly the ball is almost never in his hands.
That brings me to my next point – D’Angelo is one of the best guards in the league at hitting teammates **in stride** and in the perfect window on cuts… [in addition to throwing the defenders off with where his eyes are looking.](https://streamable.com/i2je9)
If you caught the end of the last GIF, then you’ll know what’s coming next. D’Angelo Russell is **THE BEST** lob passer in the NBA today. [He’s got every lob in the book](https://streamable.com/gr41j), and he’s showing out with lob targets like WCS, Paschall, Burks, GR3, Green, and Chriss. He can pass both directions with either hand; he can pass across his body with his off arm and opposite his momentum; he can hit oop targets from half court and look them off; he can alleyoop under hand on the drive, chest passes from 30 feet; he is so deadly with the pull-up 3 that bigs need to slightly hedge the screen and if the big slips and the defense is a step late, D’Lo will have already fired a pass for a dunker. He can get to the midrange and put his defender in jail, draw the help who are playing against his floater, and lob a soft pass over their arms. He will throw alley oops in transition if someone is a step late to streaking bigs.
However his best pass isn’t his lob – I would say it’s his [pocket pass to rollers in the PnR.](https://streamable.com/lcxly) If you were familiar with D’Lo in college, you might remember [this clip.](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JofVWECgfU) He is a wizard with bounce passing and splitting defenders. It is almost surgical the way he repositions and resets screens until the angle is just right for him to rifle a pass between someones legs for an easy dunk. Harden is another great pocket passer but one thing that D’Angelo clearly has over him – the comfort of using either hand, and passing either direction. His pocket passes are a thing of beauty.
As I traced D’Angelo’s defensive issues this year, I categorized them into three main issues
1. D’Angelo gets nullified by screens easily both on and off ball. His inability to fight through is apparent.
2. D’Angelo is [unable to catch up laterally with the first step and is never able to position himself between the offensive player and the rim leading to an easy layup](https://streamable.com/k2za8)
3. D’Angelo is [not hustling](https://streamable.com/is4rm), either in transition not sprinting back or just looking lethargic in closeouts. He even makes Joe Ingles look nimble.
However, his insanely low DRTG can be attributed to hot shooting by the man he is guarding. Opponents are shooting 44% from 3 against Russell – almost 8% points better than their average. I’m sure it can be partially attributed t o Russell’s poor defense and lack of hustle, but at such an outlier, it’s clear that luck is also playing a big part in bringing down his defensive numbers. In his two years in Brooklyn, he did alright defending the perimeter, but like the eye test suggests, he was horrible at stopping players from scoring at the rim and showed an inability to stay between them and the basket.
There were a few positives I noticed from Russell’s defense as well.
1. [In this clip](https://streamable.com/8c38u), D’Lo sees Green fall for the pump fake. As Chriss rotates as the primary help, he leaves behind Tristan Thompson wide open for the dump off. D’Lo sees this so he takes two quick steps to box out Tristan, leaving his man open in the corner but taking away the wide open dunk. He then recovers to his man for an OK contest.
2. [In this clip](https://streamable.com/0wfhk), Myles Turner has sealed his man and is wide open for the lob pass for an easy two. D’Angelo spots this and stunts hard towards Turner, taking away the initial pass. He then sees his man get swung the ball and attempts to deflect it out but misses and gets scored on.
Although he gets scored on in both clips, they both showed a defensive IQ and awareness to take away the highest percentage look. What’s missing is the hustle required to turn these smart plays into stops.
[Some more positives here](https://streamable.com/idjtr). Russell has great wingspan and a good percentage of his steals are from surprising the other team with his reach, getting deflections and steals that seem unexpected.
[He also shows good defensive timing](https://streamable.com/76y76) akin to Andre Iguodala when he’s able to position well and contest drives.
**Areas of Improvement:**
There are several areas of improvement that need to happen for D’Lo to take the next step
Slow lateral movement, easily blown by – hopefully with his decrease in usage, he is able to use more energy on defense and live up to his potential on that end. He has been in the top USG% in the NBA the past 4 years. Additionally, hopefully playing for a winning team with a winning culture will help him realize what kinds of hustle plays are expected day in and day out of the 82 game season. He’s still early enough in his career to be able to make a drastic change on that end. He has been at the t op of the Nets in deflections and loose balls controlled and I want to see him bring that same hustle here.
Labeled as a chucker – I believe that his shot profile will change dramatically after adding back Steph and Klay.
[Careless turnovers](https://streamable.com/xkgv4) – This reminds me of Steph Curry but there is a tradeoff in creativity, passing, and freedom on the court that will result in silly turnovers at bad times. This has to be cleaned up similar to how Curry had forced himself out of those bad habits earlier in his career. Remember those bets with Mama Curry? Some of that would be great here.
Not a good FT shooter – for how amazing a shooter D’Lo is, he doesn’t have that same consistency at the line
Shot a career low in the short mid-range from 4-14 feet. In 4 years before GSW, he shot 45%. This year it’s down to 38%. I think this is an anomaly that will bounce back given D’Angelo’s [great and varied floater game](https://streamable.com/qvzhe). He really demonstrates nice touch on these floaters and they’ve been a staple of his offensive game since he joined the league.
**Can he work in a system with Steph and Klay and Green?**
Imagine D’Angelo as the trigger man at the top of the key, with Steph and Klay coming off of down screens on either wing. Any wrong action by the defense (over playing the shot if Curry or Klay get a step) can result in a lob pass for a dunk to the screener or hitting two of the best shooters in the game for a catch and shoot. Now also imagine D’lo being one of the shooters coming off of the down screen and getting swung the ball with the options to shoot, pass, or drive. He’s already shown in just 1/3 of the season that he is able to contribute as both an off ball player and a ball distributor in Kerr’s system. Adding the pick and roll with D’Angelo as a floor spacer, or the guard running the pick and roll with two elite spacers and a great secondary playmaker in Green as the roll man is also another wrinkle that can be worked into the offense.
In conclusion, I think D’Angelo will fit nicely along with the Warriors future plans and the trades being offered now are not at all worth a 24 year old PG with so much potential. He fits well in the offensive system and has the pieces needed to elevate his defense to the level needed as well. He has become a deadly off ball player and it will be exciting to see the future with the three guard lineups. Even with a mediocre to average defense, I can see their offense setting record numbers and winning them a lot of games.