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Lakers News: Latest on D'Angelo Russell, Larry Nance Jr. and More

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 04:  D'Angelo Russell #1 and Jordan Clarkson #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers react to a Sacramento Kings foul during a preseason game at Honda Center on October 4, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers, and their collection of intriguing young talent, remain one of the most fascinating organizations to monitor heading into the 2016-17 season.

Below, we'll break down some of the latest news surrounding the team.

   

D'Angelo Russell

Lakers head coach Luke Walton is still working with D'Angelo Russell to find the right balance between being a facilitator and a scoring threat in the offense, as he told Jovan Buha of ESPN.com after a 101-97 preseason loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday:

He struggled a little bit early because he really is trying to do the right thing, do what we're asking him. But at this level, there's a fine line of doing what the coaches want and playing off feel. The guy has got a phenomenal feel for the game. So a lot of picks he was coming off, he was trying to play-make even though he was open for the shot. So what we're trying to tell him is, any time you're open, shoot it. We want you to play-make, we want you to get everyone involved from the point guard position. But when you're coming off screens and you're open, the best way to make that defense pay is to shoot. He's one of the best shooters we have.

[...]

It wasn't being more aggressive. It was just getting better at recognizing what the defense is giving you. If the defense isn't giving you the shot, then we don't want you shooting the ball. But the way Denver was playing, a lot of their bigs were dropping way back and D'Angelo is one of our best scorers. So if that's the case, if he shoots 20 times at the end of the night, we're fine with that because we think those are good shots.

Finding that balance will be key for both Russell and the Lakers this year. The 2015 No. 2 overall pick struggled in his rookie season, finishing with 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game on 41 percent shooting. His numbers were hardly shabby, but he also didn't have the impact the Lakers were necessarily expecting when selecting him over Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis.

And Russell also made waves off the court for secretly recording Nick Young, who admitted to cheating on his former fiancee Iggy Azalea, which caused trust issues within the locker room (though Young has said he's over the incident).

With that behind him, Russell enters the 2016-17 season needing to be one of the leaders on a young Lakers team and one of the focal points of the offense. The Lakers are now built around the young trio of Russell, Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle, with Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng and Lou Williams serving as solid supporting pieces.

But Russell has to be one of the team's main attractions. And Walton, to a point, sympathizes with his charge in that regard:

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It's got to be challenging. He's [20 years old]. He's the starting point guard for the L.A. Lakers. I think he's naturally a scoring point guard. I think that's who he is naturally as a player, but he wants to win. He's willing to play the right way and willing to play how the coaches ask him to play, which is to move the ball and get it out of your hands and then get off some screens and turn in the weak-side shooter. All of these things, he's willing to do right now. I think it gets tough when you're that young and you're still learning how to do it all to combine and to know when to do each one. We'll stay on him about it.

Certainly, they will. The Lakers' foreseeable future hinges on how Russell responds.

   

Larry Nance Jr.

Ontario, CA - OCTOBER 9:  Larry Nance Jr. #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers plays defense against the Denver Nuggets during a preseason game on October 9, 2016 at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

In an interview with Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles, Nance spoke about his Crohn's disease, his battle for the starting job with Randle and his early-morning workout sessions with his teammates.

"I think that goes to show how well the people that have been treating me have done in treating my Crohn's," Nance said of playing with the disease. "I am one of the energy guys on the team, and if you would have seen me before I got diagnosed, it would have been a completely different story, believe me."

He's overcome those difficulties to the point that he replaced Randle in the starting lineup at power forward last year, averaging 5.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 20.1 minutes per game. But he isn't worried about starting this year unless it's the right decision for the Lakers.

"I want to win," he said. "Whoever meshes well with that first unit deserves to start. I don't think whoever is starting is better. I just think it's more about fit because we have two very capable power forwards. It's less about starting and more about fit."

And the competition for minutes isn't affecting his relationship with Randle, as he told Ahmed:

Julius and I are absolutely very, very similar as people. He's a very introverted person, as am I. At first, it wasn't like we disliked each other; it was just like 'I'm introverted, he's introverted.' We each did our own thing. This summer, we got to be around each other more and our relationship has gotten 10 times better because we do have that trait in common. So now, we're starting to appreciate that about one another. There are a lot of things that we have in common. I'm a huge fan of Julius, honestly.

Nance (23) seems to be a bright spot on the Lakers, and he could emerge as one of the team's young leaders. Over the summer, he and several of his teammates formed "The Breakfast Club," which was an early-morning workout session.

"Soon enough, it grew to be six or seven guys in there, and we were all holding each other accountable for being there on time, getting ready, making games in the weight room," Nance said. "It created a fun, competitive-type culture."

Which is exactly the type of culture the young Lakers need.

     

Three-Point Shots

Ontario, CA - OCTOBER 9:  Nick Young #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball against the Denver Nuggets during a preseason game on October 9, 2016 at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

Walton, who in his last gig worked with the amazing shooters from the Golden State Warriors, outlined his philosophy for perimeter shooting with the Lakers this year, per Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News:

The floor should be spaced with free-flowing ball movement going side-to-side. If you’re a shooter and you’re open, I want you to shoot it. Whether they go in or not, a lot of times that’s out of our control as coaches. As long as you put the time and work in and it’s a shot within the rhythm of the offense and it’s not a forced 3-point shot, we’ll keep encouraging them to keep taking them.

Obviously, Walton won't have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala at his disposal this season. But Young, at least, thinks the Lakers have the right balance to be effective from long range.

"We can be great at that area," he said, per Medina. "We have a lot of shooters. We got our legs. All you need is confidence really. We all got that. We lift each other up."

There's nowhere to go but up. The Lakers shot just 31.7 percent from beyond the arc last season, worst in the NBA. Walton may encourage the Lakers to shoot threes within the flow of the offense, but if they fall at the same inefficient rate as last year, that strategy may end up being ill-advised.

    

You can follow Timothy Rapp on Twitter.

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