When the Los Angeles Lakers passed up on big man Jahlil Okafor and selected guard D’Angelo Russell with their second pick in the 2015 NBA draft, general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear that he saw a talent in Russell that he could not pass up.
Just four days in to Lakers NBA Summer League practices, and others are seeing it too, with his court vision and passing ability leading the conversation. Lakers head coach Byron Scott noticed that “everybody seems to want to play with him” because he makes everyone around him better. Scott said throughout the entire week of practice, he noticed players coming up to Russell asking him how he was able to make certain passes.
Russell’s used to that.
“It’s definitely an adjustment for whoever is playing with me, because they’re open and don’t know half the time they’re open.”
Take Julius Randle, for example, who’s been caught off-guard by several of Russell’s passes and said adjusting to Russell’s play-making ability is a good problem to have. And, Russell’s already been game planning for Randle, who’s been a standout at practices, singled out for his power and strength. Russell’s already talking comfortably about working the pick-and-roll and finding Randle in transition, referring to Randle as an absolute “beast.”
But, it’s not just Russell’s passes that are standing out.
“D’Angelo’s a natural born leader – talks a lot out there and kind of guides guys where they need to be,” Scott said after their fourth day of practice together.
Russell’s leadership on the court has been noticed since Day 1. Larry Nance Jr., the Lakers 27th draft pick, described a sequence of events, where Russell dished it to him on the fast break during their first Lakers practice. Nance, who was open for a jumper, passed up the shot. After the possession, Russell ran over to Nance telling him to “shoot it” next time and that “confidence is everything.”
“He’s a confident kid,” Nance said after just one practice. “He’s already ready to step into that role. He’s ready to lead us.”
As far as playing alongside fellow guard Clarkson in the backcourt, Russell smiled when talking about it.
“It’s dangerous. He does a great job of rebounding. I do a great job of rebounding, so if he gets it, he pushes it, sets up the offense. If I get it, get an outlet, set up the offense, it’s equal. So, I feel like that gives us an advantage.”
After just four days of practice together, sounds like Clarkson and Russell are already on the same page. With their first Summer League game set to tip-off on Friday at 5:30 PM PST against the Philadelphia 76ers, the storyline will surely be the No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks facing off against each other, and Clarkson knows it.
“No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks, playing against each other. We gotta get the win for D.A.!”
Expect to see Russell gearing up to prove himself on Friday night, he said he’s already treating every game, like it’s a playoff.[divide]