How D’Angelo Russell brought unwavering confidence to the Lakers

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Coming back to a place can be surprising. You realize that not much has changed, but you have changed completely.

D’Angelo Russell arrived in Los Angeles at age 19 as a rookie with the Lakers. He was a good three-point shooter with playmaking potential who averaged 1.5 steals per game. Nine seasons later, he’s an arc assassin; he’ll make you pay everywhere as he’s shot 45.9% from the field this season. And his game is no longer just potential. His passing has become a legitimate profession as he averages 7.1 assists, one percent less than his teammate and fourth all-time NBA passing leader, LeBron James.

Russell first became a Laker a decade ago when Los Angeles selected him second overall in the 2015 NBA draft. He was traded after two seasons and bounced around the league between three different teams until to last year, when he returned to the Lakers during the most active trade deadline in team history.

The left-handed point guard joined Los Angeles and actively helped change the trajectory of the Lakers’ season, going from a team that originally had a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs to a team that s ‘s path to the Western Conference Finals.

Even so, when the free agency period rolled around this year, people outside of Russell’s orbit speculated about his future. He was imperturbable. He was cold as stone. Russell said: “I don’t care at all. I’m going to report to work. That’s it. I cannot control whether my contract makes sense to be traded. I can’t control this. I can just play.

Eventually, in life, you realize that there are only so many constants, only so many things you can control, only so many things in which you can find stability. And for Russell, his constant has always been playing basketball.

“I know my credibility,” Russell confirmed. “I know what I am capable of, I never forget it; I will never forget him. My confidence will always be high. And I will walk like that, I will talk like that and I will try to play like that too.

After suffering a tailbone injury that kept him sidelined for three games in late December and early January, Russell hit the floor again on January 7, 2024. From that point until the trade deadline on January 8 February 2024, he averaged 22.2 points, 6.4. assists and shot 44.9% from three-point range. He responded to uncertainty with blatant confidence.

“Nothing changes,” Russell said of how he felt after the trade deadline. “Emotionless, always.”

The whole world watched in awe as D’Angelo gave adversity the cold shoulder. He hit the exam with the silent treatment. Everyone was wondering “How?” » Was his performance governed by frustration? Inspired by proving people wrong? Everyone asked “DLo” for answers, but his answer was simple: “I can always control my own energy,” he said. “It’s just about coming in and playing hard. I don’t think there is a game that you can prepare to play hard. For me it continues to crumble day by day, it’s just who I am. I play hard, I’ve always played like that. It’s just a part of me, I guess.

He’s talked a lot about flow state this season, a mode where the body and mind are connected, focused beyond the point of distraction. Russell explained how he often enters this mode on the field. It’s a place where he feels nothing and thinks about nothing. He was a player who prepared too much, watched too much film, thought too much, went overboard. He was a player who tried to overcome the game. But he recently began studying psychology, particularly the flow state, and is now a player who finds his calm and confidence in preparation.

“Honestly, there’s no thought, there’s no extra will,” he said. “I just found a pocket where I can achieve my flow state around these guys in the game. When I’m out there, I don’t think about anything, I don’t think about scoring 20 points in a row, in 12 games , and everything else, I really play; these are the results.

D’Angelo behaves with regularity. It’s clear he’s interested in basketball. He cares about his teammates. He is interested in strapping. But it doesn’t need validation. He never lets his value waver. It’s hard. But it’s important: a skill that most people go their entire lives without practicing. “For me, I care what people say about me now, after people have been wrong about me for so long, I don’t care anyway, even for the praise. I don’t care,” Russell said.

With the ups and downs that come with being a professional athlete, Russell’s unapologetic attitude is something his younger teammates look up to. And where he was once one of those kids, he’s now a leader on this team.

D’Angelo credits his leadership to two-time NBA champion Rajon Rondo. Rondo and Russell had the same high school coach, Doug Bibby, in Louisville, Kentucky. “We come from the same garden,” Russell said. Coach Bibby instilled confidence in each of them from a young age and “sprinkled the same sauce.”

When D’Angelo was in ninth grade, Rondo would come to practice and pick him up all over the court. Rondo left for boarding school the following year, but he had laid the foundation for young players coming out of Kentucky. “I wanted to follow that,” Russell said.

He did. DLo is a pro who recognizes the needs of his teammates. “I just notice throughout the game or throughout the organization the players that need a little confidence, a little drum in the back. I always feel in the most confident types of games, good, bad or in-between. When I go home, I don’t lose confidence. So by finding ways to pass that on to younger players whenever I can or recognizing when someone might need it, continuing to say those words of encouragement and continuing to be selfless, I think it’s contagious,” he said.

D’Angelo’s behavior is one of the main reasons he formed relationships with his teammates, particularly him and Austin Reaves, who developed a close friendship. They have similarities in their games, they share a love of golf and they often do their post-match press conferences as a duo.

“It’s a beautiful thing. I like the way he plays the game,” AR commented on Russell’s approach. “He’s one of the smoothest players I’ve ever seen and been around. This is a testament to what he does when no one is looking.

It’s D’Angelo Russell. But has that always been the case? When you come back to where you started, it may be surprising because you think about how much you’ve changed. And because you can see now how everything you have accomplished has always been within you.

All the dreams and goals he had ten years ago are now real and he has achieved them. Russell started his own podcast, The backyard, to share his truth and reflect on his journey. He joined the NBA’s 10,000 point club. He entered Lakers history with the most three-pointers in a season, 208 and counting. And he became a father.

Countless times this season, fans have seen Russell pick up his son, Riley, and hold him on his hip while doing the postgame presser. His teammates were gathered in the locker room and joined by D’Angelo and Riley after the game. Riley’s first birthday party was Lakers-themed. His family and basketball are his constants at the moment. Everything else is just noise.

As for what he does next, “I’m preparing for what he’s going to see,” D’Angelo said of his son. “I’m trying to prepare myself to be the person that maybe I didn’t have, or I know I wanted to have. Everything is based around him now, he’s added structure. I plan things now and I’ve never been that guy.

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