D’Angelo Russell’s 3-point shooting has certainly improved. He’s hitting 41 percent from deep since he rejoined the starting unit, 46.5 percent in March and 50 percent over the last four.
How about his defense?
Kenny Atkinson thinks it’s getting better too, particularly elevated since his return from arthroscopic knee surgery in January.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge for him because sometimes he’s playing bigger guys,” said Atkinson. “We’re putting him on two’s and sometimes three’s. It’s a challenge but I think his defense is improving. I do think it’s going to get better as he gets stronger, he moves better, I think there’s room for growth there.
“A lot of stuff is just being able to move better athletically,” he continued. “Coming back from the knee injury and getting healthier, I think that’s helping him. He definitely has room for improvement strength wise – I think as he gets stronger he’ll be able to firm up defensively more.”
Russell claimed following Tuesday’s loss to Toronto, Russell says offense isn’t even on his mind; defense is.
“It’s not the offensive end for me, I really try to focus on the defensive end and making the correct rotations – offense is not really my focus right now,” he said.
He reiterated that after Thursday’s team practice before leaving for Philadelphia, where they take on the 76ers.
“Yeah just following the gameplan,” he told reporters. “Knowing my match-up every night and every game. I’ll be studying my player I’m really guarding and knowing what they like, what I can do to take that away. Just the gameplan all-around. How can I be there on the rotation for my teammates? Watching film, you see those plays.”
Atkinson also says that he admires Russell’s gambling nature, saying the former Ohio State Buckeye is a challenger – one to take chances. Russell wants to try different things but Atkinson, who usually is a little more conservative, wants him to stick to team principles as much as possible.
“He’s got to cut down on his, I call them ‘rouge’ kind of, you know,” the head coach said with a laugh. “Sometimes we laugh about it sometimes we don’t. Sometimes he outsmarts himself.
“Sometimes I do listen to him and he makes valid points,” he added. “‘Can we switch this one? Can we do this?’ If you do that then it becomes a better understanding. It’s not me saying ‘no freakin’ way,’ we’re communicating. At the end of the day when we come out of that meeting we’re on the same page and everybody else is on the same page.”
Now, as long as he can continue that hot shooting as well his newfound defense...