Rookie Season in Perspective: D’Angelo Russell

USATSI

USATSI

Rookie Season in Perspective: D’Angelo Russell

 

Los Angeles Lakers sophomore D’Angelo Russell became one of the most talked about athletes in the NBA last year, but for all of the wrong reasons. The 6’5” point guard out of Ohio State had a promising college career and showed off enough great professional potential to be selected second overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. Although he was a bit inconsistent in the early few months of the season, Russell eventually picked up his play significantly. However, after the Nick Young fiasco, when an NBA fan heard the name D’Angelo Russell, they’d instantly think about privacy intrusion and marriage counselling sessions. Instead of dwelling more on the position Russell put himself into, let’s talk a step back and evaluate the sophomore-to-be strictly as a basketball player.

In his pre-draft interview with First Take, when asked about what player he resembles most, Russell shockingly mentioned Stephen Curry. Let’s keep in mind that this interview was before Curry’s unprecedented rise this last season. Russell claimed his quick release, long-range, and slick handles to get around defenders resembled that of the now back-to-back MVP; all which have been put on display in front of Curry and his teammates, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant at team USA practices all summer.

Looking back at the first 52 games of his rookie campaign, Russell had a lot of turbulence with then head coach Byron Scott. However, post All-Star break is when the rookie really started to display his true skill and potential. In the three weeks after the All-Star break, Russell was second in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 53.8% with a minimum of five attempts a game, putting him behind only Stephen Curry. His 6’5 frame helped him finish the season second among all rookies in steals. His 39 points against the Brooklyn Nets were the most by any rookie last season, and the most points by any Lakers rookie in franchise history. His 130 threes were also the most by a Lakers rookie (passing Nick Van Exel’s 124) while also becoming the youngest player in NBA history to nail 120 threes. It’s a shame such a promising rookie campaign was diluted with the infamous video taping fiasco, but Russell has shown great growth and potential since and it has not gone unnoticed:

“I see tons of talent,” New York Knicks star veteran Carmelo Anthony said of D’Angelo Russell. “I see skill. I see someone who can really start to come into his own, really have an opportunity to be a top tier point guard in the NBA.” Anthony continues, “I know this is his second year and he has some work to do but he has tons of upside.”

In a video shot at Team USA camp, Anthony had his arms around Russell talking in his ear, seemingly breaking down the plays they are both watching very closely. In another video, he’s learning positioning from accomplished head coach Gregg Popovich. Playing alongside some of the best names in the game at Team USA camp as a member of the Select Team certainly grew Russell as a player and got him ready for the 2016-17 season that much more.

“[Russell] is a [very] clever player,” San Antonio Spurs head coach and four-time NBA champion Gregg Popovich said. “He’s very skilled, but he’s smart on the court. He knows what the situation is and knows how to take advantage of certain match-ups that are on the court.”

D’Angelo Russell has all the skills and potential to become a star. His great court vision, basketball IQ, clutch gene combined with his young age proved to Los Angeles Lakers fans that there’s hope for the future. Now that his rookie season is behind him, and a new free flowing style of head coach in Luke Walton is in front of him, Russell and his young core of teammates can finally put last years Hollywood drama in the past, and begin the next chapter in the now Kobe-less era of Lakers Basketball.

 

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