A few year ago, Los Angeles Lakers talisman, Kobe Bryant, said that he was still searching for his successor, the man he would pass the torch to. D’Angelo Russell was projected to be that man, who leads the most celebrated NBA franchise into its next era.
On the October 26th Sports Illustrated, Kobe and Russell posed on the cover of a Teacher-Pupil-themed edition that meant to shed light on the NBA’s next generation of stars.
But the Lakers organization and loyal fans of the Purple & Gold could be in for a reality check.
On paper, the jury is still out on Russell. But if initial eyesight is anything to go by, the Ohio State point guard lacks the quickness, physicality and tenacity to succeed in the NBA. As Russell gets further exposed to the most competitive sports league in the world, it’s likely that the Los Angeles Lakers made a regrettable decision to draft Russell with their precious No 2 overall pick.
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While Russell struggled for just four points in 26 minutes Wednesday, his rookie counterparts Jahlil Okafor (26 points, 2 blocks), Karl-Anthony Towns (14 points, 12 rebounds), Emanuel Mudiay (17 points, 9 assists) and Kristpas Porzignis (16 points) had stellar outings in their respective debuts.
The pre-draft ESPN projections gave Russell the best chance among all rooks to become a superstar. But it also projected Russell had the highest bust likelihood, at a whopping 40.9 percent. Drafting Russell was a gamble that could have gone either way. One wonders if the gamble was worth it.
The safe route for the Lakers was to go with Okafor, who was widely expected to be drafted by the Lakers prior to the 2015 NBA Draft in June. Okafor smashed expectations Wednesday by scoring the most points by a Center in an NBA debut since the great Kareem Abdul Jabbar back in 1969. Now, that’s saying something.
In Okafor and Julius Randle, the Lakers had the ideal opportunity to form the front court of the future. Perhaps, they bought into the hype of Russell while forgetting that fundamentals always get the better of flashes of greatness. Surely, Russell has exhibited the ability to make sensational passes but Okafor’s big hands and smooth post moves are comparable to a rookie Tim Duncan. You don’t pass up on such talent.
Some might say it’s still too early to conclude that Russell is a ‘bust’. But if you watched him all through the Summer League, the preseason and the Lakers’ opening game against Minnesota Timberwolves, it’s difficult to maintain an iota of optimism about the 6’5 guard from Kentucky.
After Wednesday’s forgettable outing, Russell maintained that he was still learning the ropes. “It’s still an adjustment for me,” said the 19-year-old. “We have a great team and a lot of great weapons. It’s just a matter of me figuring out where my spots are. Trying to get guys involved and trying to stay involved at the same time. I’m just trying to adjust to that.”