On June 25, 2015, the Los Angeles Lakers selected D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick over Jahlil Okafor. I was on the Russellmania hype train when it was clear the Minnesota Timberwolves would take Karl-Anthony Towns with the first overall pick. Jahlil Okafor looked slow and lacked the defensive prowess which I believe is necessary for a center in the NBA. D’Angelo seemed to have the work ethic which would translate to the court and a head coach that helped to develop Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, and Kyrie Irving. This seemed like such a great situation! What could go wrong? In D’Angelo, I saw a natural scorer with a nice outside shot, great court vision, and passing ability. Combine this with his height and length, and you have a very unique player with great potential. So I am confused by the criticism surrounding the guard out of Ohio State.
D’Angelo’s rookie season was nothing short of turbulent: being a starter to being a bench player, having a coach that clearly did not believe in him, and getting isolated by teammates over a video leak that turned into a fiasco. Every social media post involving him will almost always include the comment “Snitch” or “Bust” or “Should’ve taken Okafor”.
Even after everything that happened during his rookie season, my beliefs remain the same. I continue to have faith in his potential and believe he will be a great NBA player.
Despite not having any sort of semblance of an offense that he was expected to run, D’Angelo put up decent numbers, averaging 13 points per game along with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. His 39 point outing against the Brooklyn Nets was something to behold as he tied a rookie record with 8 made three pointers. Our very own Jamie Rico pointed out, D’Angelo had a 41% field goal percentage, 32% three point percentage and a true shooting percentage of 50.7%.
Russell was not great on defense by any means, but that isn’t something to worry about. As many worried about D’Angelo being a turnstile on defense, he did better than many expected. His size helped to guard 1’s and 2’s and he can learn to use his length to get in the way of passing lanes. D’Angelo is also the second NBA rookie to average 16/4/4 per 36 minutes. The other being Lebron James during the 2003-2004 season, and he turned out just fine. (DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT SAYING D’ANGELO WILL BE AS GOOD AS LEBRON. You could say that this claim is ballsy.)
He was stuck with a bad coach who clearly distrusted him and had fans clamoring for the player that was picked at 3. This is a no win situation. I really believe the hate towards D’Angelo is unwarranted. Whether it is noted Jahlil Okafor stan Bill Plaschke (who gets paid to write about sports, although I’m curious as to how much of Okafor he watched)
or Jay Williams/anyone else from ESPN who wanted the Lakers to trade the point guard and draft Kris Dunn, D’Angelo has many people to prove wrong. People who are clamoring for the Lakers to trade him for Okafor seemed to forget the fact that his rookie campaign was not a failure by any means. Besides, if the Lakers wanted Okafor they would have taken him on draft night. (Imagine if they did? Terrible defensive center and they probably would have gone for Rondo. What a dark timeline.)
Critics can point to the off court issue in which D’Angelo showed poise and maturity by owning up to it, apologizing, and going on to poke fun at himself with a commercial. Nick Young went on a spree of liking Instagram posts and tweets which called D’Angelo a “snitch” or a “rat”. I have not seen an interview with Russell that leads me to believe he has an attitude problem. He is very mature for a 20 year old and that maturity will be helpful in the long run.
D’Angelo has clearly been hitting the weight room already, addressing a criticism that he had received since Summer League of 2015 that he was “out of shape”. With Luke Walton becoming the new coach, D’Angelo has already been badgering him with questions about Stephen Curry and what he has been doing to improve over the past two years. Stephen has transcended to arguably one of the best offensive players in NBA history (DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT SAYING D’ANGELO WILL BE THE NEXT STEPHEN CURRY AS COOL AS THAT WOULD BE).
D’Angelo’s gym-rat label has carried on past his rookie year as he has been working relentlessly on his game this off season. It’s not much, but D’Angelo showed off his offensive prowess at a Kentucky Pro-Am game in which he went for 39, and man, did he look smooth. I believe the second year point guard will hold true to his statement after the January 8 game against the Kings when he dropped a career high 27 points: “Y’all ain’t seen nothing yet”.
There is no telling how well the second year point guard will do next season. All I do know is that with a new coach and offensive system surrounding him, D’Angelo Russell is poised to carry the torch that Kobe Bryant left after his retirement. All of the criticism and noise will be a thing of the past when he lets his increased level of play show that he is more than worthy of the number 2 spot in the draft.