With any high-ish draft pick comes a certain amount of expectations. Throw around the term “lottery pick” and suddenly the thought process turns to “this guy should be pretty good”. Jump into the top five or into the top two, and the player is expected to be able to alter the course of a franchise.
Now, turn on the spotlight that comes with playing in Los Angeles and for the Lakers and expectations get ratcheted up more. You aren’t just a top draft choice who should play really well and help lead your team to relevancy, you are pitted against players like Magic, Kobe, and West or Worthy, O’Neal, and Abdul-Jabbar as players who won’t just contribute to the upward trajectory of the team, but become a relevant name the entire league can hold up as a standard.
This is what D’Angelo Russell is facing after being selected second overall this past June. He’s not just another high draft pick, he’s the player who is supposed to pick up where Kobe left off; he’s the franchise’s next great point guard after Magic.
While I have been thinking about this for some time, this fantastic Russell feature by Holly Mackenzie for Complex Sports brought it back to the forefront for me. Mackenzie does a great job of weaving from Russell’s time in Las Vegas for summer league to his days at Ohio State and back through the draft process to what is ahead with the Lakers.
While the entire thing is well worth reading, this specific passage that caught my eye:
With the Lakers eager to get back on track after two disastrous seasons and playing in what could be Kobe Bryant’s final year in the NBA, there will be plenty of pressure. The franchise’s extended swoon combined with that significant roster turnover will likely turn training camp into a fierce competition for minutes, touches, and shots. If there’s anyone on the roster equipped with the skill set to keep all of the mouths fed it is Russell—but he’ll have to prove it.
“You’re young, but you’ve still got a voice,” Russell says of being a rookie point guard. “When you speak a lot of people listen, especially when the ball is in your hands, if they’re trying to get a shot or if they’re open and you’re not finding them. At this level I know I’m going to be playing with a lot of top players that you’ve got to make happy. Being able to do that and be aggressive at the same time is a challenge I’m looking forward to.”
When watching tape of Russell, it’s easy to see the things he does well. He’s a very good shooter, as a feel for how to score from all levels of the floor, and possesses wonderful court vision and instincts as a passer. These latter skills prompted his fellow rookies to earn the vote as his draft class’ “best playmaker”. But finding the balance between being a set up man and the guy who looks for his own is likely to be his biggest challenge.
Although Russell is young — he will not turn 20 until after the all-star break in February — he already seems to get it, though. As the above quote shows, he has a level of awareness and perspective that will serve him well. Especially when things don’t go well or when he doesn’t necessarily meet the level of play he expects for himself.
The coaches recognize this as well. More Mackenzie:
The biggest positive that the Lakers coaching staff took from his experience in Vegas was watching how he reacted to adversity. Rather than getting flustered or frustrated with those around him, he paid attention to things he needed to improve on as well as the ways the NBA game is different than college. Russell was the same player to his teammates during practice sessions whether the team had won or lost its previous game.
“It is rare any time you have a rookie [with] so much confidence,” Madsen says. “Most rookies enter the league so timid, really nervous. They were ‘the man’ in college and now going to the NBA, you’re dealing with grown men, you’re dealing with superstars. You’re dealing with financial endorsements that are massive. The pressure is that much higher. D’Angelo’s confidence never wavered and his love of the game never wavered.”
Some will always question whether Russell was the right pick. With a potential franchise big man on the board when the Lakers selected, this perspective is understandable. And while I was more than happy with the Russell selection, in reading the above and seeing him play, an even greater comfort exists. Whatever he becomes as a talent, the mindset he possesses combined with his obvious talent have him beginning his career in a good place.
Again, the entire Mackenzie piece is worth your time, so give it a read.
-Wow, now that’s a mouthful. That bar has been set very high. I mean Darius just rattled off the name of six (6) Laker greats, which easily could have been extende- Next great Laker, wd to 10 if he included Wilt, Baylor, Gasol, & Goodrich. Kid will have his work cut out for him attempting to have that adjective on his resume as a Laker. Norm Nixon (a personal favorite) and Nick Van Exel were very good point guards during their times w/ the Lakers. If Russell can come close to being as effective as those guys, the Lakers made a good pick.
– Which brings me to my next point. It’s harder then ever to know what you’re getting in the draft since “one and done” has basically become the norm. Especially the #1 pick overall.In the ’80’s six of the ten #1 picks reached the NBA Finals at some point in their career (w/ four, Robinson, Olajuwon, Worthy, & Aguirre) winning multiple titles. In the ’90’s, three made the finals, w/ two, Shaq & Duncan winning a total of nine titles…so far. Early 2000’s, only LeBron and Bogut have titles, a 3rd #1pick, Dwight Howard, did lead his Orlando team to the Finals. But between 2010 and 2015, nothing yet.
david h says
Darius: you’re correct; laker nation is in dire need of the “next great” and how better to phrase it than in the form of a question.
we’ve had our share of players who came into the league with great expectations and went on to hall of fame careers as evidenced by their retired jerseys hanging in the rafters at staples center in downtown los angeles. a couple have statutes gracing nearby entryway.
whether that “next great” be Russell is certainly worth questioning, providing the impetus to consider the possibility is trademark of you darius.
keep up the great insight and forethought.
Let’s hope Russell develops quickly, as in this year. ESPN just named the 2015/16 Lakers as #3 in their Team Turmoil (the squad likely to have the most problems this season) rankings.
I saw the ESPN rankings. While I am don’t see ESPN as being as biased as others here do, I think this is somewhat of a silly ranking. Now, don’t get me wrong I think the Lakers will struggle and will likely finish at 25 or so wins. I just don’t think losing necessarily translates into ‘turmoil’ on the court or in the locker room. As I, and many others have said: our young players are unproven and our vets are average so expectations need to be reasonable. This year is part of a lengthy rebuilding process. There’s a price to pay in getting back to being competitive.
Note: depending on how Jeanie reacts to the Lakers continuing won/loss struggles I do think, however, that there is a fair chance of turmoil in the FO. Again, there is a price to pay…
While I am don’t see ESPN as being as biased as others here do, I think this is somewhat of a silly ranking.
I see your point. Losing when the expectation is winning can cause turmoil. However, losing when the expectation is learning is entirely different. I also agree, Jeanie holds the key for whether the FO experiences ‘turmoil’ or not.
Interesting, that Sacramento was voted Team Turmoil in the ESPN Ranking. I think this is an accurate placement. I sense that part of Jim’s reason for getting Hibbert was to have a ready to use expiring contract available to deal. Should the Kings implode it will surely involve Cousins. Lakers fans can connect the dots on their own. Unfortunately, if Cousins is dealt I think he goes East to Boston for a boatload of picks and young talent.
ESPN is biased in the way that it covers Kobe and in the narratives it presents about the Lakers, so there will be more stuff about Kobe ball-hogging and hurting the young guys, etc. which is where the turmoil angle comes from. But their predictions about how the team will do have been as accurate as anyone else’s, especially the last couple of years.
Didn’t read the “turmoil” article but wondering where the Clips fell. They had to practically kidnap their Center to keep him from leaving. My understanding is a big reason he sorta left is he wasn’t getting enough touches. Unless he somehow developed an offensive game over the Summer, don’t care what was said, CP3 ain’t giving him the rock.
Clippers were 5th. It is a list–not really an article.
From ESPN: Team Turmoil: 2015-16
1. Sacramento Kings Total points: 110 2014-15 record: 29-53
2. New York Knicks Total points: 36 2014-15 record: 17-65
3. Los Angeles Lakers Total points: 33 2014-15 record: 21-61
4. Dallas Mavericks Total points: 18 2014-15 record: 50-32
5. Los Angeles Clippers Total points: 15 2014-15 record: 56-26
Also receiving votes: Brooklyn Nets (9), Oklahoma City Thunder (8), Philadelphia 76ers (6), Houston Rockets (6), Denver Nuggets (5), Charlotte Hornets (5), Phoenix Suns (4), Indiana Pacers (4), Portland Trail Blazers (3), Toronto Raptors (3), Chicago Bulls (2)
Too soon to know if Russell is a star or bust. But love reading @stackmack articles. She writes more about the personality and character of a player. Plus she’s good looking.
I was a JO guy,but the more I see of DR,the more I like the pick. His big challenges will be on defense and then when to facilitate and when look to score. I think he can become a really good shooter,much better than he showed in SL and with much improved strength and conditioning as he matures.