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Former Buckeye and current NBA Western Conference finalist D’Angelo Russell continues to excite, frustrate, entertain, and perplex at the highest level

Bouncing back and forth between role player and borderline star, DLo can be a walking contradiction on the basketball court.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

First and foremost, I hope that my headline did not come across too harshly. As an Ohio State fan(atic), I have always rooted for and often enjoyed watching D’Angelo Russell play basketball. I have enjoyed watching him play in Columbus, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Oakland, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles again... And those are just cities in which he has played NCAA and/or NBA home games.

Which is sort of the deal with DLo, right? Often productive and fun to watch, but rarely part of his current team’s long-term plans.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

And that is because as talented as Russell is, as enticing and exciting as his shooting stroke, handles, and slick passes are... He also possesses an innate ability to drive coaches and teammates up a wall with his consistent inconsistency. In other words, DLo giveth and DLo taketh away. The 2023 NBA playoffs have been a perfect example.

Just over a week ago, with his Los Angeles Lakers tied 1-1 (games) in a series with the Golden State Warriors, Russell came out firing in a pivotal Game 3. He torched the twine for 21 points in the first half, going 8-of-12 from the field and also adding four assists. He led all players in first-half scoring and helped the Lakers establish a double-digit lead, which then turned into a second-half blowout.

DLo may have been on his way to earning Player of the Game honors, but then proceeded to go scoreless after halftime while adding just one assist and turning the ball over three times. He also sort of trashed one of his former teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves, after the game and took little responsibility for how things ended there.

Now, it should be noted that LA held a massive lead throughout the second half of that game (3), and Russell’s services were not exactly needed (nine minutes played). But then in Game 4 of the same series, DLo was arguably as bad and inefficient as he has ever been. In 31 minutes played, the former Buckeye scored four points on just 1-of-10 shooting. He “added” four rebounds and three assists but was the only Lakers guard to finish with a negative on/off split. The Lakers narrowly defeated the Warriors, no thanks to their starting point guard.

To be fair, Russell’s poor performance did not negatively impact the outcome of the game or series. And he is now getting ready to suit up in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals. But Games 3 and 4 were indicative of how he can greatly impact a game — for better or worse.

In Round 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs, DLo averaged 16.7 points per game against the Memphis Grizzlies but combined for 16 in the Lakers’ two losses. Conversely, he averaged 25 in the team’s two blowout wins. DLo given and DLo taketh away, sometimes in an every-other-game pattern. And that is why I describe(d) his inconsistency as being consistent, as well as absolutely maddening.

Maddening, because Russell is a rare talent. And when he is “on”, he is an absolute joy to watch. Few true point guards can dribble, pass, shoot, and post up (total package) as well as DLo can — and does, skillfully, when his motor is running hot. His defense is nothing to write home about, but on the offensive end, there is nothing Mr. Ice In My Veins is incapable of. You want 30? He can get you 30+ on occasion... or 40+ (four times)... or 50+ (once). He also has 52 career double-doubles and 33 games of 10+ assists, according to StatMuse.

Despite his natural talent and proven ability to perform at an All-Star level (2018-19 in Brooklyn), Russell has been traded four times in eight seasons. And he will likely be searching for yet another team once this current Lakers run comes to an end, whenever that may be.

But who knows, perhaps DLo goes on to perform well in the NBA Finals, earns the Finals MVP award, signs a big extension with LA, and the narrative around him changes. As much as I might be rooting for such a scenario, Russell’s pre-2023 playoff stats (15.4 PPG on 35% shooting) and performances like the Game 4 debacle give me serious doubt.

So what is the purpose of this piece, then? To piss and moan about a guy who played for the Buckeyes nearly a decade ago now? Well no, and I hope it is not perceived as some personal attack. I love watching “good” DLo play basketball. I hope that he becomes more consistent and eventually reaches his ceiling, which I don’t think he has even approached yet. Sure, he averaged 20+ PPG from 2018-2020, but 25 (and 8 or 9 assists) is not out of the question. Not for a player with his skill(s) and talent.

I also hope that he finds the right situation, as both a person and a basketball player. Russell has been an odd team fit and/or played under some less-than-desirable circumstances during his well-traveled career, but he is still just 27 years old. And we have seen great, HOF-worthy point guards peak much later in their career(s). Chauncey Billups, Steve Nash, and another former Buckeye, Mike Conley come to mind. So there is plenty of time for DLo to make additional All-Star teams, All-NBA teams, represent his country in the Summer Olympics, and so on.

I guess I have no right to be frustrated or bothered by a player’s career. I’m a fan, I’m nobody. However, I did not write this out of frustration — I wrote it as a fan. A fan who has been somewhat underwhelmed by the smooth lefty’s professional career thus far. But hopefully there will be many prosperous years ahead for DLo, and I look forward to the day when he is running the show like he so often did in Columbus.