It’s been quite a whirlwind for D’Angelo Russell, I would imagine. Almost a year ago to the day I write this, he was drafted with the #2 overall selection by the Lakers. He seemed genuinely ecstatic about the development, going a spot higher than most projected him to go, and avoiding being part of “the process” in Philly which just produced a 10 win season and the #1 overall pick in this draft.
Fast-forward to today and he’s gone through an up and down rookie campaign and saw an off-court issue with a teammate become national news, branding him a “snitch”, “rat”, or worse in the process. His image has taken a hit that to the point that the flashes he had as a rookie might as well have never happened.
In the shows leading into and during the actual draft itself on Thursday, no less than 4 analysts found ways to either trade, give away, or discredit Russell’s basketball playing ability. Arguments were made that there was no place for him on the team and that the Lakers should voluntarily draft Kris Dunn over Brandon Ingram just to be able to trade Russell.
This was silly. More than that really, but I’ll keep this PG rated.
I believe in D’Angelo Russell. I believe his combination of shooting, court vision, feel, and willingness as a passer aren’t often found in the same player. I believe his skill set combined with his size and length, as a point guard, make him almost totally unique in today’s NBA and allow him a certain type of versatility that is rare at his position. I believe as his body (and mind) mature, as he continues his strength and conditioning training, that he will offer the Lakers potential at the position they have not seen in decades.
It really doesn’t matter what I believe, though. What matters is Russell’s desire to improve, the work he puts in to satiate those desires, and the growth which comes from it. Russell has taken some hits, but he’s hitting back. In a story posted Friday at Bleacher Report, Kevin Ding wrote the following:
Already, Russell is working like crazy toward next season, especially in the weight room. He’s a confident kid who is well equipped to deal with adversity, having spent his entire life trying to prove himself to his big brother.
He’s also openly yearning to soak up every drop of knowledge and freedom offered by new Lakers coach Luke Walton, inundating Walton with questions about the steps Stephen Curry took in the past two years.
Ding goes on to discuss Russell’s alpha personality and leadership qualities. These are certainly important. The next leader for these young Lakers hasn’t yet been established. Kobe once noted the torch hadn’t been passed — that the torch must be seized. Russell has some qualities to do just that (as does Julius Randle; Ingram also said he hoped to bring leadership to the team).
I don’t know whose team the Lakers will be next year and beyond. Certainly free agency will play a part in what direction the franchise goes and how roles are sussed out among those in the locker room. However that shakes out, though, do not discount D’Angelo Russell’s place in the hierarchy. Because as excited as I am about Ingram, Russell’s game too has the ability to be something special. And I think he’s going to show everyone exactly that. Whether they believe in him or not.