The Los Angeles Lakers triggered the true beginning of the 2015 NBA Draft back in June. After the consensus top prospect, Karl-Anthony Towns, went No. 1 overall, general manager Mitch Kupchak sent shockwaves throughout the league by selecting D’Angelo Russell over Jahlil Okafor.
The Lakers have a long and rich history of great big men donning a purple and gold uniform, so many believed Okafor was their guy. However, the vast majority of impactful big men to come to Los Angeles were already established stars in the NBA. Instead, the team stuck to their tradition by taking the highly-touted guard prospect.
Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant are the most notable names of guards the Lakers acquired through the draft that went on to become superstars in the NBA. Russell hopes to join that list in the future, and to do so, he will have to conquer the daunting task of facing elite talent at the point guard position on a nightly basis.
How does he deal with expectations to become the next Chris Paul type of player? He’s just going to be himself.
“Just realizing that I’m not those guys. They made their own stamp in this league. I’m honored just to get compared to those guys, honestly. To make my own stamp, the sooner the better.”
One thing that might help his learning curve: Russell’s locker is right next to Kobe Bryant’s, and he’s excited about it. “I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be around, but for me to have my locker right next to him, I get to pick his brain a little bit more … that dude’s a genius. He didn’t get to where he is now on accident.”
With that learning curve, could come some early struggles. Russell understands that, but believes his game and knowledge will develop over time.
“I always have trouble figuring it out early, but as the season progresses I figure it out. At college, being a combo guard is tough, knowing when to get guys involved and knowing when to score. As the season went along, I started to figure it all out. At this level, I feel like it’s going to be the same.”
Not only will Russell be able to turn to Kobe for advice, but he also has another guard that was in a similar position last season: Jordan Clarkson. Russell is excited about the future with his backcourt running mate.
“I’ve seen him put in work multiple times this offseason. I know it’s going to show, whenever it’s his time to break out. I just want to be a piece of his success. Me and him together is a dangerous duo and I feel like we have all the tools to be the best we can possibly be.”
Clarkson dazzled in Las Vegas during Summer League play, while Russell showed flashes of brilliance, with some bumps in the road along the way. Is he a different player already from his Summer League experience? “Definitely. I can’t wait to showcase it.”
The past two seasons for the Lakers have presented results that are the polar opposite of what the franchise and its fan base has grown accustomed to over the years. Russell understands the rewards that await him if he is able to help lead the purple and gold back to prominence.
“Guys like yourself [James Worthy] always preach: This is the best place to win. You can win anywhere and it would be a great feeling, but in LA, it’s the best place to win.”
That success, of course, requires a ton of hard work. Russell has been working relentlessly this summer. Head coach Byron Scott has taken notice, and revealed some minor knee and ankle injuries contributed to some of Russell’s Summer League struggles.
“He has a determination about himself that I love. He really wants to be good. The last three weeks of him in this gym, playing, I saw some things I didn’t see in Summer League. I saw some explosiveness, and some quickness. I saw some things that made me sit back and go, ‘Woah, okay.’ He showed me a few things this summer that I’m very excited about.”
Scott certainly is not alone in his excitement of Russell. Fans everywhere are excited about his, and the team’s, future as the Lakers seem to have a few young, promising pieces set in place as they attempt a return to glory.
All quotes transcribed via Time Warner Cable Sportsnet