Lakers 104, Nets 98
It’s been four months and change since D’angelo Russell was in Barclays Center. On that June evening, a tension filled one for Russell and his family, he sat in red jacket at a round table, waiting his turn, hoping that what he wanted was what he would get. When his name was called, picked second in the draft, when he shook Adam Silver’s hand with his Lakers cap on, Russell had no idea what would be waiting for him four and a half months later. In June, there was euphoria. In November, there has been disappointment.
Even though it’s only been four games, and even though Russell is just 19 years old and he is a developmental player who is not a finished product, there is a lot of grumbling about the Lakers second pick in the draft. To outsiders, the Lakers went out on a limb. They selected Russell instead of Jahlil Okafor who is averaging 20 points and 5 rebounds. It still rankles some Lakers rank and file that Russell has had a very slow (rough) start to his NBA career.
Before Friday’s game in Brooklyn, Russell’s numbers were very rookie like: 34% field goals, 50% free throws, 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.3 steals. On the plus side, Russell was no longer a turnover machine as he was in summer league, averaging less than two turnovers a game. But his 8.5 points seem incredibly small compared to the number one pick, Karl-Anthony Towns, the number three pick, Jahlil Okafor, and the number four pick, Kristaps Porzingis.
- Karl-Anthony Towns: 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 blocks
- D’angelo Russell: 8.5 points, 2.8 assists, 2.5 rebounds
- Jahlil Okafor: 20.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks
- Kristaps Porzingis: 12 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
Add to that, Russell has to deal with Byron Scott’s expectations and Byron Scott’s wrath. Scott has been a little ticked with Russell lately and Russell doesn’t understand why he’s not in games at the end. Russell had an early video session with Kobe Bryant as a way to fill in the missing links to where he needs to improve as he embarks on his first 5 game road trip of the season.
He made it count. He had his best outing of his young NBA career back at the place where it all started, in Barclays Center. He had 16 points, 66% field goals, 66% on threes, 4 rebounds and 3 steals. He made Jarrett Jack look like he was made out of jelly as Jack fell on his face on a Russell crossover. He repeatedly dribbled into the lane for a mid-range pull up. He looked, for the first time, like the number two pick in the draft and a player who has a great future even if he didn’t register an assist.
Towards the end of the second quarter, Russell scored on a pull up jumper, a three pointer, and another three pointer. To start the third quarter, he drilled a jumper. He followed that up with another three pointer. Not only was his shot smooth, he looked confident and calm taking it. Russell’s performance was a very good sign for him, particularly with Scott breathing down his neck, threatening to pull all the young players because they were not improving the way Scott wants.
Russell’s performance was complimentary to the rest of the team. Four other players besides Russell were in double figures: Kobe Bryant, Julius Randle, Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson. Collectively, it was good enough to get the Lakers their first win against a particularly awful Nets team that will rival the 76ers as worst in the East. The Nets are now 0-6. The Lakers and Russell take their show to Manhattan and the city that never sleeps for a Sunday afternoon affair against Carmelo Anthony.
photo via llananba