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D'Angelo Russell can expect more space for three-pointers

D'Angelo Russell can expect more space for three-pointers
Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell takes a shot against Golden State on Oct. 19. (Denis Poroy / Associated Press)

During an early preseason practice, Lou Williams caught a long rebound and looked around for a point guard to pass to. 

Immediately, Lakers Coach Luke Walton gave him another idea.

"Go Lou, go Lou, go Lou," Walton said, quietly but with urgency. "Take it yourself, push it, push it, push it."

Williams, playing as the first-team shooting guard, started the fastbreak. A play later, power forward Julius Randle caught a defensive rebound and started dribbling down the court. A play after that, center Timofey Mozgov threw an outlet pass to small forward Nick Young, and Young initiated the offense. 

This may seem like a menial preseason practice sequence, and for the most part it was. But the takeaway is twofold: Walton, in his first season as the Lakers' head coach, is encouraging a lot of different players to push the ball. As a result, D'Angelo Russell, the team's starting point guard and primary ball-handler, will not always be charged with setting up the Lakers' motion-based offense.

That should be a very good thing for Russell, who was a top-flight three-point shooter when given space as a rookie. Walton's offense, and the prospect of multiple players starting it, promises to offer even more space for Russell in his sophomore season. The Lakers open against the Rockets at 7:30 p.m. in Staples Center on Wednesday.

"This league is slowly developing into a versatile league," Russell said during the preseason. "Guys are capable of doing multiple things, and with this team everybody is capable of doing multiple things. So if it's me getting out on the break and running the wing, I'm capable of it."

Russell saying he is "capable" of being effective on the wing is an understatement. He shot 35.1% from three while averaging 13.2 points per game last season, but was especially efficient when given space to shoot.

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NBA.com defines an "open" shot as when a defender is four to six feet away. Since it is difficult to create that much space off the dribble — although Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving may beg to differ — it is safe to assume the majority of "open" threes are catch-and-shoot attempts, and more likely to come in transition.

Last season, only four of the NBA’s 30 starting point guards shot 40% or better on “open” threes. They were the Warriors’ Curry (49.4%); Jose Calderon (45.3%), who was with the Knicks and is now with the Lakers; the Spurs’ Tony Parker (44.1%); and Russell (40.6%). 

Parker's numbers are misleading, however, as only 4.8% of his total field goal attempts were "open" threes. Calderon, who will back up Russell along with Marcelo Huertas, is no longer a starter. That leaves Curry and Russell as the starting point guards who most resemble knockdown shooting guards in perimeter catch-and-shoot situations.

Lakers Coach Luke Walton says D'Angelo Russell, shown during an Oct. 21 game against Phoenix, is "a big part of what we do and we're not going to rush him at all."
Lakers Coach Luke Walton says D'Angelo Russell, shown during an Oct. 21 game against Phoenix, is "a big part of what we do and we're not going to rush him at all." (Harry How / Getty Images)

That's not bad company for the 19-year-old Russell, even if the data are particular.

"D'Angelo is a pure shooter, he really is," Nick Young said during the preseason. "So if we can get him in space on the wing or on the break, or whenever, that's something we want to do."

It was very common for a Lakers shooting guard —whether it was Williams or Jordan Clarkson — to bring the ball up during the team's eight preseason exhibitions. Randle, who is expected to start at power forward, looks more than comfortable starting the fastbreak off defensive rebounds. Walton has even started working Brandon Ingram, the Lakers' 6-foot-9 rookie forward, at point guard in practices.

These are all good signs for Russell, who will benefit from collapsing defenses while spotting up on the wing. The Lakers will also benefit, as they are expecting Russell to lead the team through the pains of a full-on rebuild.

Getting Russell open transition threes should help soften some of the Lakers' trials this season.  Russell has already proven he is more than capable of hitting them, and it's likely more are on the way.

jesse.dougherty@latimes.com

Twitter: @dougherty_jesse

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