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D’Angelo Russell wants to be like Derrick White

D'Angelo Russell

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

D'Angelo Russell
D’Angelo Russell is trying to model his defense off Derrick White, one of the best defenders in the NBA. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

D’Angelo Russell wants to be like Derrick White

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell has an entirely new mindset entering the 2023-24 season.

Following their 108-97 preseason victory over the Milwaukee Bucks Sunday evening, Russell singled out Boston Celtics guard Derrick White as a player that he wants to play like, specifically defensively.

“My inspiration has been Derrick White. I want to be Derrick White.” Russell said after the game Sunday. “He doesn’t get a lot of credit for what he does. He makes all the winning plays. That’s who I wanna be.”

Russell has been vocal about wanting to flip the narrative regarding his defense, which hasn’t been considered pristine, this offseason.

“I mean, last year they found a way to get me off the floor by not playing defense,” Russell said, according to Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. “So, [I] try to be a reason to eliminate that. Not give them a reason to not have me on the floor. Try to be as dangerous as I can on offense and try not to be a liability on defense. So, that’s what I’m working on. I’m trying to do it now before the season so I continue to practice those good habits.”

Russell’s teammates, according to Turner, are noticing the shift and his added attention to detail defensively, too.

“To me, he’s one of the most skilled guys, plays with great pace. Defensively, he does the right things,” Reaves said about Russell. “He’s in the right positions. And obviously in training camp so far, I think you’ve seen him take another step forward in that aspect and we have nothing but faith and confidence in him in what he’s doing on both ends.”

“He’s more focused on the defense,” Rui Hachimura said about Russell. “We know he got offense. He’s now more vocal, which helps a lot. I like when the point guard, the leader is vocal. It’s easier for me to kind of get into the game. He’s always trying to communicate with the other guys.”

The 6-foot-4 guard was played off the floor in the playoffs, in part because of his porous defense that bled into his offense. He played in 16 games, averaging 13.3 points and 4.6 assists, shooting 42.6 percent and 31.0 percent from 3-point range.

According to Basketball Index, Russell graded out in the 59th percentile in defensive matchup versatility, 38th percentile in matchup difficulty, 13th percentile in help defensive activity, 28th percentile in perimeter isolation defense, 70th in ball screen navigation and 30th percentile in D-LEBRON, a defensive metric used to measure overall impact. For perspective, White, an All-NBA defender, graded out in the 61st, 81st, 41st, 95th, 95th and 94th percentiles in 2023 for such categories, respectively.

If Russell, a very good shot creator, can be a passable point-of-attack defender alongside Anthony Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt, among others, there’s a world where the Lakers–a top-3 defense post-deadline–can be a top-5 defense over a full 82-game sample if they can remain healthy.

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