D’Angelo Russell had a rough rookie season. Divide the blame between Russell and his immaturity, and Russell and the unrealistic expectations for the now 20 year old who struggled with adult issues in a league of men who have no time to coddle. If you glance at the numbers, Russell’s season was good for someone so young. 13.2 points, 3.3 assists, 41.0% and 35.1% behind the arc. As expected, all of his maturity by fire took a bloodbath once the Nick Young videotaping scandal shook the viral world and Russell had to try to explain himself. Perfect timing was the last game of Kobe Bryant, the 60 point love fest. It brought Russell’s world full circle. He was on the court when Bryant made those last free throws for 60. Forever, D’Angelo Russell will be enshrined as part of the nostalgia. That night filled with joy erased a lot of the sting of what happened a couple of weeks before. It didn’t wipe the slate clean. No one has forgotten. But Russell can now go into phase two of his young career.
On the summer to-do list: Russell in the weight room to get his body right. Russell in the gym to get his game right. Russell has to play as much summer pick up basketball as possible.
What Russell has been doing is touring China. He’s been in Beijing and Shanghai, part of a NBA consortium to celebrate the growth of the game. Russell is loving his Asian interlude and told the L.A. Times, “I might not come back for the first Lakers game. You can’t blame me.”
In the Times interview, he admitted he is working out every day, even overseas.
“The only other place I have been to out of the country is Mexico. China is my second place. So I didn’t want to go if I couldn’t get time in the gym.”
For much of his rookie campaign, Russell’s work ethic was a question mark. Usually it was a red flag. Besides the jokes and gags and laughs and pranks, did Russell’s heart beat? How hard was he willing to compete? Could he fill in the Kobe Bryant shoes, not just star power, the-light-is-on-me, but the rest of it, the not cheating the game work ethic, the seriousness about winning, the competitive identity. Russell, as a Lakers star of the future, was widely debated and fans hopped on and jumped off the bandwagon so quickly it made you dizzy.
Kobe Bryant gone, a team of young guys surrounding him, Russell has to prove something in year two. Devon Booker of the Phoenix Suns was named to the All-NBA Rookie first team, not D’Angelo Russell. Booker was the 13th pick. Russell was the 2nd.
“I’ll let my game speak for myself”, Russell told the Times which, honestly, is a change of pace. Russell loves Russell and wasn’t shy about talking about how great he was during the season. Much of his self-written hype never lived up to its promise. 13 games he scored 20+ points. 27 games he scored 9 points or less.
The addition of Luke Walton should enable Russell on both ends of their floor. As a player Walton was smart enough to make the right basketball play. As a Warriors coach, Walton is coming out of a system in which spacing, ball movement and reads are crucial. The Warriors enable their players to think the game. Russell struggled with Byron Scott’s strict discipline. Will he adapt in a more player-friendly, softer Walton system? Or will that legitimize laziness?
Russell is excited about Walton. Walton is young enough to relate to the Lakers kids and is the same age as the Lakers veterans. Plus he will enter the Lakers hierarchy as a champion in 2009, 2010, 2015.
To the non-Russell fan, his name will forever be linked with the Nick Young videotaping scandal. Now that time has settled, Russell is introspective about it.
“I’m glad it all happened. I’m glad I went through those adversities. I think it shows your true character.”
This time last year, D’Angelo Russell was mostly an unknown as the conventional wisdom was the Lakers were going to go after big man Jahlil Okafor. A year later what do we know?
Russell can be brilliant and Russell can be disappointing. He can play tough and he can play bored. He can be driven and he can be lazy. He can score 39 points against the Nets and he can score 2 points against the Rockets. He can explode with glee at Kobe Bryant’s last NBA point, his grin lighting up his face, and he can sulk on the bench and roll his eyes and slump his shoulders when things are really bad.
He has yet to assert the real D’Angelo Russell and the pressure is all on him in 2016-17. He was named to the USA Basketball Select Team, a group of 25 NBA players who trained together this summer in Las Vegas and are part of the pool to participate in upcoming Olympic Games. Surrounded by his peers in workouts will only benefit Russell, who also had his teammate Julius Randle by his side.
But Lakers fans care less about the Olympics than they do about erasing the nightmare of the past two Byron Scott years. With D’Angelo Russell leading them, it is a pressure moment for the 20 year old.
“I’m excited. I want to let my game speak to that.”
photo via llananba