D'Angelo Russell feels more freedom after being on short leash

LOS ANGELES -- For much of the season, Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard D'Angelo Russell has played on a short leash.

He has been pulled from several games for what seemed to be minor mistakes common among young players, particularly point guards with gifted court vision. He often has spent the fourth quarter on the bench or been taken out when some games were close late. And, in one instance, he was benched for "trying to take over a game," as Lakers coach Byron Scott later explained.

All in all, Russell, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft, hasn't had much freedom -- and he had even less after being moved to the bench after starting the team's first 20 games.

But Russell has started the team's past four games and has a green light from Scott to start the rest of the season.

Which means Russell, a former Ohio State standout, is starting to feel much more comfortable these days.

"I feel like if I mess up on something, I have a longer leash," Russell said after scoring a game-high 22 points Friday in the Lakers' 112-95 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center. "Earlier in the year, it was like, no leash."

In fact, Russell said of those earlier days, "I felt bad. I wasn't playing the type of basketball that I was capable of playing because I knew I was coming out for every mistake."

Now? It's a different story.

"It's cool because I know I'm going to be on the floor no matter what, so it's up to me to take advantage of it," Russell said.

Indeed, he's starting to feel like his old self again.

"Yeah, I feel like they drafted me because I had a great opportunity in college," Russell said, "and I took advantage of it and then came here, and I didn't have that opportunity. I had to work for it and start from scratch.

"I feel like every game now, since I've been starting, I just want to develop that aspect that Coach is like, 'He's going to give us something.' It's cool."

More than that, Russell wants to develop into the leader that this team hopes he'll become, though he knows that will take time.

"I feel like myself, [Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert] -- a few people have those leadership qualities that you can't really teach," Russell said. "But me, I don't really have the credibility or experience, so what I say goes through one ear and out the other. I feel like once I get that credibility, and I'm speaking for myself, that I'll have that quality of being a leader."

He's also trying to maintain good habits even though the team keeps losing, falling for the eighth straight game Friday.

"We've been losing all year, so you kind of get accustomed to it. You pick up bad habits," Russell said. "I don't feel like anybody in here is a loser. I don't feel like anybody is used to it. So when you lose this much, you pick up bad habits. I feel like that's the worst thing. I feel like I was picking up bad habits and not really seeing the positives out of our losses and trying to grow."