I’m all for tempering expectations when it comes to young players. Being successful is hard in the NBA. Being successful when you’re not yet even 21 years old is even harder. Players this young not only need to physically mature, but they need to figure out how the strengths they do possess translate to playing against grown men. The same is true of the mental adjustments and getting to the point where they can react to the game in front of them rather than having to think through possessions.
However, just because the learning curve exists doesn’t mean young players don’t show us flashes of what they can become. I remember watching Jordan Clarkson’s first summer league games last year and thinking “this kid has something” even though it seemed like every other possession was him trying to go too fast or not recognizing what the rest of the players on the floor were doing.
This year is no different when it comes to Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell. They are only on the bottom levels of their respective development curves, but when watching them play it’s easy to see they have something to them. This “something” was on full display in Sunday’s win over Maccabi Haifa.
For Randle, this is his third straight game of looking just like this. The handle, quickness, power, and finishing ability he showed above have been on full display the last three games. Whether he can keep it up are real questions, but as he strings games together where he looks this good doubts start to dissipate.
As for Russell, we’ve had much less to go on to this point. After getting injured early in the team’s second preseason game and subsequently sitting out their third, Russell simply hasn’t had the floor time to show all that much (one game samples, and all). Still, Russell, like Randle last year around this time, was showing glimpses.
On Sunday, however, he did more than that.
These types of passes aren’t anything new from Russell, but to see them strung together in a single contest without having them countered by some of the rookie mistakes he was making in summer league was good to see. People around the team have raved about Russell’s passing ability and while we got glimpses in other games, this was a clinic.
Again, I’m all for not taking highlights and turning them into normative performance. On the other hand, sometimes it’s just fun to sit back and say damn, these young guys can play a little bit.