With all the excitement about looking forward to the upcoming summer and season — with a new draft pick and head coach to help usher forward a new era — it’s easy to forget about last season. Some of that, of course, is wanting to forget a 17 win season. But there are some redeemable things from last year.
One of which was announced on Thursday when D’Angelo Russell was named to the NBA All-Rookie 2nd Team. From the Lakers’ press release:
Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell has been named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team, it was announced today. Russell is the second consecutive Laker to be honored with an All-Rookie team selection, joining Jordan Clarkson who was selected to the First Team last season, and is the fourth Laker in team history (Kobe Bryant and Travis Knight in 1996-97 and Nick Van Exel in 1993-94) to be awarded Second Team honors.
The second overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft played in 80 games (48 starts) in 2015-16, averaging 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.16 steals in 28.2 minutes per game. He finished the year ranked 4th among rookies in assists and steals, and 5th in points and three-point field goal percentage, and was one of 10 American rookie and sophomore players selected by the league’s assistant coaches to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star 2016.
The Lakers went on to name other highlights of Russell’s season, mostly tying back to accomplishments he achieved contrasted against his age. Russell spent over half the season as a 19 year old, so his ability to contribute at a reasonably high level and reach some of the benchmarks he did is worth reflecting positively on. I, for one, congratulate Russell on this achievement.
That said, there will be some who wanted more from Russell and will point out that, as the 2nd overall pick, the hope would that he would be a 1st team member. Russell missed out on that honor by 44 points, or the equivalent of 22 1st-Team votes. Russell received 25 1st team votes and 92 2nd team votes. The only guard on the 1st team was Devin Booker, also a young player who had a strong close to the season playing for a Suns team who suffered several key injuries to their guard rotation.
If that scenario sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same path Jordan Clarkson took to make the 1st Team last season. And it was likely Booker’s strong close which resonated with voters. When comparing Booker’s numbers to Russell, they are actually very similar in points, assists, rebounds, shooting percentages, etc, etc. I would imagine the “off court” drama which Russell dealt with also resonated with voters, but that’s a discussion I will avoid (as I have all year).
In any event, I view this as a positive for Russell even if some will likely use it (and his 9th place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting) to try and tarnish Russell’s rookie campaign. This is silly to me, honestly. It’s fair to criticize Russell for the things he did not do well last year. His defense wasn’t particularly strong, he started slowly, and finished the season on a fizzle even though he was granted more minutes and a return to the starting lineup.
Of course, there’s context to add to what Russell’s season was — the coach, the system, his role, etc. These things should not be ignored and are part of the conversation. In all honesty, however, I am tired of having that conversation. We all know last season was a challenge for lots of the players, Russell included. Thankfully, change is on the horizon and it will be on Russell (and the other players) to fully grasp the opportunity in front of him and improve.
All-Rookie 2nd team is a fine honor. As is being named to the Team USA Select Team. As was being part of the Rising Stars challenge. But Russell’s continued work, both on and off the court, is what will matter most. We’ve already been getting glimpses of that work. More of that and he’ll be just fine. Regardless of how anyone views the recognition he does or does not receive.