Last Monday when the Lakers played the Toronto Raptors, Byron Scott sent shock waves through the NBA, especially Lakers Nation by benching D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.

This was Scott’s response to the Lakers being blown out the day before by the Detroit Pistons, citing a lack of energy and chemistry from the starting lineup. Russell had struggled up to that point and his replacement, Lou Williams is instant offense, but Randle has been pure energy since the season started.

Despite the heavy criticism from Lakers fans and media, Randle continues to lead the team in double-doubles, yet Wednesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves Russell had his breakout game. Although a risky move, Russell and Randle have responded well. Instead of sulking and complaining about the demotion, they’ve come out with hunger and aggression.

Russell has lacked aggression since the beginning of the season, yet when the promise of guaranteed minutes and a starting spot was taken from him, his game arrived. Since that point, Russell has surpassed his season-high in scoring and minutes twice and was trusted to take the final shot both in regulation and overtime against the Timberwolves.

Byron Scott has made questionable moves since being named Lakers Head Coach, but maybe his biggest mistake was inserting Russell into the starting lineup at the beginning of the season and heaping praise prematurely by comparing him to Magic Johnson. The pressure seemed to get the best of Russell and most fans noticed he played with a fear of being benched for making mistakes.

Ironically once Russell was taken out of the starting lineup, his game took off.

Scott doesn’t deserve credit for this move, but as Lakers fans we should be happy Russell is playing with a renewed confidence. He is alternating between penetrating and setting teammates up instead of settling for jumpers, but what’s most encouraging is his desire to be the primary ball-handler and orchestrating the offense. His off-court swagger is finally translating to his on-court performance.

It’s a long season and Russell may hit the rookie wall, but at least he has a few games to point to as successful performances. As in most cases, success breeds success so Russell should continue to build on this recent stellar play. Playing at a faster pace and his leadership skills have surfaced plus the ultimate sign of validation came from Kobe Bryant by refusing to enter the game in the 4th quarter against the Timberwolves in a close game welcoming the younger players to take center stage.

All players who have been Bryant’s teammates know to earn his trust means you’ve stepped up. As Russell grows and Bryant teaches expect big things from the Lakers young core.

Despite the Lakers record, Russell instantly brightened the future in L.A.

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Author, blogger, speaker & die-hard Lakers fan

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