It’s no secret, D’Angelo Russell has thousands of doubters who claim to be die hard Laker fans. After every game, after every Instagram post, after every tweet, after every move D’Angelo seemingly makes, some variation on these comments or thoughts can be found:
“You’re a bust.”
“We (referring to the Lakers) should have drafted Okafor.”
“They should put you in the D-League right now.”
“You’re more worried about fashion than basketball, grow up.”
Russell regularly is the subject of tweets like these:
And Instagram comments like these:
As if he isn’t a 19-year old millionaire who had never seen California, let alone Los Angeles, before the Lakers drafted him.
So far this season among rookies, Russell is 4th in scoring at 11.8PPG (highest among guards drafted), 3rd in assist with 3.3, 10th in rebounds per game at 4.1. (Tied for the highest among guards drafted) and 3rd in steals per game at 1.19.
However, Russell’s rank in minutes per game fluctuates between 4th and 5th depending on how Lakers head coach Byron Scott is feeling that day. Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor, Kristaps Porzingis, Emmanuel Mudiay before injury, and even T.J. McConnell for a brief stretch all average more playing time per game than D’Angelo Russell. However, despite playing in a horrendous offense, having to deal with the “Kobe show” on a nightly basis, and not having guaranteed playing time, D’Angelo Russell is right on track to be a great basketball player.
For some perspective, let’s take a look at some Hall-of-Fame players and their numbers during their rookie season in the NBA.
Jason Kidd, arguably a top-five Point guard to ever play professional basketball:
Kidd: 11.7 points, 7.7 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.2 turnovers. 39MPG. FG%38.5. 3PT%27.2
Russell: 11.8 points, 3.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.3 turnovers. 27MPG. FG%40.2 3PT% 32.3.
Russell isn’t far behind Kidd when it comes to on the court performance, however, Kidd was averaging about 12 more minutes a game than Russell. Makes you think how more more Russell could do if given more PT.
Steve Nash, another one of the greatest point guards in NBA history
If Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram existed in 1996, the world would’ve never believed Steve Nash would be a potential HOF point guard when his career was all said and done. Nash didn’t averaging more than 10 points and 3 rebounds per game until his 4th year in the NBA. (DAR avg. 11.8PPG. 4.1 Rebounds).
After only averaging 10.5MPG during his rookie year, Nash arguably didn’t have a better sophomore season than D’Angelo’s current rookie campaign. However, as Nash grew up, developed, and became more wise to the game, he became an elite point guard who ran a MEAN Pick and Roll.
Nash second year: 9.1 points, 3.4 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.3 turnovers. FG%-45.9. 3PT%-41.5
Russell rookie year: 11.8 points. 4.2 rebounds. 3.3 assists. FG%-40.4. 3PT% 30.2.
D’Angelo Russell has arguably been the 3rd or 4th best rookie of his class so far. Despite playing in a system that doesn’t really maximize his skills, playing second fiddle (at best) to Kobe, and not getting the minutes he deserves; Russell still produces on the floor when given the opportunity. In the 17 games the Lakers have played in December, Russell scored in double figures in 11 of those games, ramping up his consistency.
One last example: In 1991, this Hall-of-Fame guard averaged 7.2 points, 6.4 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 2 turnovers. According to quite a few Lakers fans, he would be considered a “bust” after having these rookie numbers. That player goes by the name of Gary Payton.
D’Angelo is averaging more points, more rebounds, and slightly less turnovers than GP did during his 1990 rookie year. However, as the case is with the majority of superstar guards, it took time, repetitions, and a few years for GP to fully bloom.
In no way, shape, or form am I saying it is a guaranteed D’Angelo Russell’s career will end up like Payton, Nash, or Kidd’s, however, it shows that everyone needs patience in order to become a better player. Russell has shown a tremendous leap from his Summer League play to his play as of late. If you haven’t seen the recent steady improvement and many flashes DLO has shown us, you need to wake up.