SAN FRANCISCO – The wait for D’Angelo Russell to start raising his game is over. He’s coming.
If he brings it in the regular season as he did in the preseason finale Friday night, and continues to build on it, the Warriors will sing his praises and jersey sales will spike during the holidays.
“He’s just such a skilled player that no matter what happens, he’s just going to find his way to 20-plus points,” coach Steve Kerr said after a 124-103 win over a Lakers B-squad team at Chase Center. “He’s a tremendous passer, so putting him into high screens and letting him pick people apart and he’s going to find a flow.
“One thing I really like about him is that he doesn’t get discouraged. He just plays. After the slow start, he really picked it up. He was fantastic.”
Russell shot well, scoring 29 points in 28 minutes on 9-of-19 shooting from the field, including 6-of-11 from deep, and 5-of-6 from the line. He also passed nicely, recording three assists and at least as many secondary assists. He could’ve had more dimes if not for the Lakers reaching to foul shooters found open by Russell.
The real revelation, however, was on the other end of the court. Unlike more than a few moments in the previous four games, Russell was more consistent with his defensive energy and purpose. During one 19-second span early in the fourth quarter, he swiped a Zach Norvell pass and raced in for a layup and also picked up a loose ball off a Draymond Green deflection and pulled up for a triple that cranked up the noise in the building.
Russell's ability to turn defense into offense is one of his more valuable traits, and something that may be an essential component of the Warriors’ attack.
“I just made shots,” Russell said. “There’s a lot of things on the defensive end that I want to get better at, just figuring out the coverages that we’re playing and getting accustomed to those things. It’s easy to make shots in this league. It’s more about doing other things.”
What’s apparent is Russell’s growing comfort on the court. He’s in a new city, with new teammates, many of them young. There were in the first few games far too much confusion on defense and hesitation on offense. All of that is starting to fade.
And much of that stems from the growing partnership between Russell and fellow guard Stephen Curry.
“It’s an opportunity to get to know each other but see the potential of what we can be when we are out there on the floor,” Curry said. “When we’re on the floor together, there is a lot of trust in terms of making the right play, taking advantage of each possession.”
Even with such an encouraging performance, Russell still sees the holes. The areas that need to improve before he can approach All-Star status for the second consecutive season.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, to be honest,” he said. “We’re still figuring each other out. In preseason you make it what it is, for a lot of teams. A lot of teams are set and they know what they’re going to do.
“For us, we need that time to build in the good things and work on the things we didn’t do so well.”
For the Warriors to be a factor in the Western Conference, the Curry-Russell backcourt has to be among the best in the league. Offensively, that’s a given. Defensively, that’s a mystery.
But it has to at least be respectable.
“I’m optimistic that we will get off to a hot start,” Curry said. “If we do run into some road bumps throughout the season, we will build a level of communication that we can adjust as we go.”
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On this night, D-Lo showed that his offense will be there. He also, at times, showed he is capable of being the defender he’ll need to be for the Warriors to get anywhere near 50 wins.
Is he all the way there yet, particularly on defense? No. But he’s much closer than he was two weeks ago. Close enough to glimpse where he has to be.