D’Angelo Russell on how his game and mindset have improved

D’Angelo Russell was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, and he spent his first two pro seasons with them. During that time, he shot just 40.8% from the field and seemed immature to many, especially after a much-publicized incident with then-teammate Nick Young.

Russell was traded in the summer of 2017, and he played for three other teams before coming back to the Lakers last February. When he returned, he didn’t exactly resemble his younger self from several years earlier.

For one thing, he is a much-improved player now. Last season, he shot 48.4% overall and 41.4% from 3-point range in 17 games with L.A. So far this season, he’s shooting a career-high 41.7% from downtown, and in his last 40 games, he’s been at 43.4% in that category.

But more importantly, Russell has taken control of his mind. Indeed, most of the battle of being a pro athlete is mental and emotional, and according to Russell, he has focused on that part of his craft.


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

He faced endless trade rumors in December, January and early February. But even as it seemed he was about to be sent away for the Atlanta HawksDejounte Murray, he overcame a horrible slump in December and became scorching hot starting in mid-January.

“I can always control my own energy,” he said. “It’s just coming in and playing hard, I don’t think there’s a play you can draw up to play hard. For me, it’s continuing to chip away 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.”

Russell has become an even-keeled customer in the seemingly always volatile environment of the Lakers. There are always sky-high expectations, and when a player or the team in general doesn’t meet them, fans, especially on social media, come out with pitchforks.

He says he has looked to get into what psychologists call “flow state,” where one isn’t really thinking, but rather instinctively responding to the environment.

“Honestly there’s no thought, there’s no extra will,” he said. “I’ve just found a pocket that I can reach my flow state around these guys in the game. When I’m out there I’m not thinking about anything, I’m not thinking about scoring 20 points consecutively, in 12 games, and all that extra, I really just play; these are the results.”

He even claims he has become immune to public perception and criticism.

“For me to care about what people say about me now after people have been wrong about me for so long, I don’t care regardless—even for the praise. I just don’t care,” Russell said.

The guard has been criticized for underperforming in the playoffs and even in key regular season games. But he has shown some improvement in that category.

Even though he struggled in last season’s Western Conference Finals, he was a significant reason the Lakers got there in the first place. He hit several key shots in the contentious Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs versus the Memphis Grizzlies, and he exploded for 31 points in Game 6 of the series.

On March 8 this year, when LeBron James sat out against the Milwaukee Bucks, Russell erupted for 44 points in a 123-122 Lakers win. He scored eight points in the final 1:54 after his team fell behind by six points, including the game-winning shot with 5.0 seconds left.

If L.A. is to replicate last spring’s success, it will need Russell to continue to be in the flow for the next several weeks, but he seems to be up for the challenge.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire