The moment that the Los Angeles Lakers passed on Jahlil Okafor with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft for D’Angelo Russell, fans were both surprised and very excited to see what the future would hold for the former Ohio State Buckeye.
What ensued was a rollercoaster ride of a rookie season that saw its share of peaks and valleys. After beginning the season in the starting lineup, Byron Scott benched him and 2014 lottery pick Julius Randle due to the team’s poor performance, a move that irked a large portion of the fan base. Both would eventually earn their way back into the starting lineup, tallying some moments along the way that would trigger excitement from fans in regards to the future of this group.
Nights like leading the comeback in Sacramento with 27 points or his season-high 39 points against the Nets, knocking down a bevy of threes, including the game-sealing triple before pointing to his arm and letting everyone know that he has ice in his veins have fans beyond excited to see what type of player Russell will become. With those thrilling performances, came plenty of disappointing games as well, but Russell is working to make sure those become an irregularity.
Russell is currently in China with a group of NBA players celebrating the growth of basketball, working with people of all ages with things such as basketball camps and events. While he is having a blast over in Beijing, he made the trip under one condition: He wanted to ensure he could still work on his game.
The 20-year-old told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times that he’s worked relentlessly on getting better.
“Every day. … Every day,” Russell said. “I actually said I wasn’t going to take this trip if I couldn’t. The only other place I’ve been to out of the country is Mexico, and China is my second place. So I didn’t want to go if I couldn’t get the time in the gym.”
Even before the trip, Russell’s work ethic has been evident. When asked about waking up at 5 a.m. in Los Angeles to start working out, Russell replied, “Oh yeah. I feel like I have something to prove, man. It’s a dedication thing.”
Only time will tell if Russell’s hard work and dedication will pay off in the end, but another thing he has to help guide him is new head coach Luke Walton. The former Laker player is wrapping up his tenure as lead assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, who are two wins away from repeating as NBA champions, meaning Walton can start working with his new team very soon.
Walton won two championships with one of Russell’s mentors, Kobe Bryant, who raved about Walton’s coaching ability to the young Lakers guard.
“I’m beyond happy,” Russell said. “I’ve heard so much about him. Kobe [Bryant] even said Luke is one of the top two coaches in this league in this day and age. I’m just looking forward to being coached and pushed.”
Russell added that he believes Walton, 36, will be able to relate extremely well to his young core and the veterans that might be on the roster next season because of his age, and his time with the Warriors. The two have had frequent conversations since Walton was hired as Lakers head coach, but Russell admitted that he tries not to bother his new coach too much while he is trying to help earn a second consecutive title for Golden State.
Russell is beyond excited for what the future may hold for him and the new-look Lakers, who still have plenty of work to do, starting with the 2016 NBA Draft on June 23, followed by the NBA free agency period beginning July 1.
Nobody knows for sure what the roster will look like around the Lakers’ point guard and the rest of the promising, young core, but it appears they have a player that wants the opportunity to lead the next generation of Lakers basketball.
Russell has put in the work so far this summer, and will have his chance to put his game on display once again next season.
“I’ll let my game speak for itself.”
For the full feature from Broderick Turner, click here.