LAS VEGAS — D’Angelo Russell continued a dominant march toward possible summer league MVP honors in Las Vegas on Monday with a 26-point performance against the Golden State Warriors, with 22 coming in the first half.
But as impressive as the Los Angeles Lakers point guard has been in summer league play by averaging a team-high 22.7 points through three games — all wins — Lakers assistant Jesse Mermuys wants to “rein” Russell in, so to speak.
Allow Mermuys, who is coaching the Lakers’ summer league squad, to explain.
“It’s hard for these young guys, man,” Mermuys said. “And I feel for them a little bit because when you have the ability to do that, obviously that flash is exciting. I’m sure he enjoys it and it’s fun to watch for the fans. As a coach, I’m trying to rein him in and that’s hard. That’s a hard process where I want him to feel confident and we want him to have that swag, and it’s unbelievable. It’s powerful.
“But we want him to be able to do it at the right times and doing it in a winning style of play. He’s finding his way and I give him so much credit for being so coachable. For him to have that type of burst at the end of the first half and then come out in the second half and then really try to buckle in on what we’re trying to do, he’s been awesome.”
But why rein in a player who’s playing so well?
“That’s a great question, because I’m sure you’re probably like, ‘Well, they’re really not reining in Stephen Curry when he’s going down and dropping 6-feet-behind-the-line 3s,” Mermuys said.
“I totally get what you’re saying. I think what we’re going for is just feeling the game, a mature approach to the game and team-first, team-first, team-first [and] let’s focus on the defense. Let’s really get a foundation, a solid foundation of a team defense, sharing the basketball, and then when it’s go time, it’s go time.”
In essence, it seemed that Russell is playing more isolation basketball than the team would like, especially as the Lakers work to develop a style and a culture under new head coach Luke Walton.
Russell, for one, understands the point Mermuys is making, specifically that Russell bailed out the Lakers by making shots early instead of helping establish the offense.
“We both knew that it started with me,” Russell said. “I was making some tough shots. But we came out sluggish. And [we were] turning the ball over, not executing.”
Russell added: “[Mermuys has] been great for me and I just tell him, keep coaching me and I’m going to be as coachable as possible. I just want to get better.”
There’s a balance between Russell following orders and taking over when opportunity strikes.
“I’m playing and the coaches aren’t really playing, so they can say what they know and then it’s up to your instinct and your experience to go out there and capitalize on it,” he said. “If they’re calling a play, you’ve got to run their play. But if you see a gap where you can create, you’ve got to trust and pick and choose.”
Russell is no doubt pleased with his strong summer league showing after he struggled at this stage a season ago.
“Guys get the first year under your belt, you come back with a different swagger and a different confidence, a different pace to your game,” he said. “With my pace, I know I’m going to be a point guard, so I know I still gotta get better every game and treat it like it’s a playoff game.”
In general, Mermuys said the Lakers are a “work in progress.”
“We have some really talented young players and that’s awesome,” he continued. “That’s a tribute to the front office. I mean, we’ve got some talent, there’s no question. And that is exciting for the future. But, of course, every time we come out we want to mold that talent into a style of play of Coach Walton’s vision. So, we’re making some strides. There’s no doubt, they’re listening, they’re learning, and they’ve been awesome to coach. Very coachable, great attitudes.
“But we’ve got some work to do. This is summer league, so this is a good test for us. We want to make sure that we leave here with a good footing for our young guys so when we get to training camp, they’re a step ahead of the game.”