Speaking with Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times on Saturday, Lakers head coach Byron Scott admitted that Russell isn't where he'd like him to be at this point of the season:
I probably thought he’d be a little further. But ... 19 years old. I always take that into consideration. Every time I try to chastise him about something or get mad at him about something, I always go right back to, ‘You know what? Coach, he’s 19. He’s still a kid, he’s still learning, he’s still trying to figure out what this league is all about.'
Through 50 games this year, in which he's started 22 of them, Russell is averaging 12.1 points and 3.3 assists per game. He's been benched on multiple occasions, most recently during a Jan. 27 game for "trying to take over the game," according to Scott, per Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com.
Russell is shooting just 41.7 percent from the field, and his assist-to-turnover ratio could be improved on. Per those 3.3 assists, he is averaging 2.4 turnovers per game. For a point guard who usually is the floor general of the offense, that number has to improve if he wants to see success at the position.
"[Russell's] just kind of figuring that out. I still see him progressing but I was hoping that he’d just be a tad further along," Scott told Bresnahan.
He has work to do defensively as well. Russell has a defensive box plus/minus rating of minus-1.5, which ranks 339th among all NBA players.
"Defensively, I was hoping he’d be a tad further along on the ball as well as off the ball," Scott said. "But those are things I look back from training camp until now, he’s gotten so much better in a lot of those areas. He knows and I know he still has a long way to go in those areas as well.”
Despite this start to Russell's NBA career, Scott is still a fan and is quick to remind everyone that he is just a youngster trying to assimilate to the game:
He’s such a kid. I told him the other day, ‘You’re 19 but sometimes I think you’re 14.’ And then sometimes I say, ‘You’re 19 but sometimes, like today, you’re 22, 23.’ We have a real playful relationship because he’s such a playful kid. At practice he has fun until we say, ‘All right, let’s get serious,' because it’s practice. Shoot-around is the same thing. But you can’t help but just smile and like the kid.
He's a dynamic, aggressive guard when it comes to putting the ball on the floor and attacking the hoop. Once he adds an ability to distribute the ball and guard the opposing backcourt, then he'll be able to flourish in the NBA.
When the distraction of the Kobe Bryant retirement tour subsides and the team can put all of its focus on developing Russell and other youngsters on the roster, the Lakers might begin to improve on their bottom-dwelling status in the Western Conference.