The Los Angeles Lakers chose to go in a different direction than expected during the 2015 NBA Draft back in June by selecting guard D’Angelo Russell out of Ohio State rather than going with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor. The former Blue Devil was considered the most NBA-ready player of any of the top-tier prospects in the draft and the safe bet for the Lakers, but Russell convinced the team to take a chance on him with the second overall pick.
Although Russell may have won over the Lakers brass, the 19-year-old has a long way to go before convincing the rest of the league he’s worthy of being picked as high as he was. Russell will likely be in the running for the Rookie of the Year award during this upcoming season if he’s able to live up to the hype, but he’ll have his work cut out for him to beat out a handful of other rookies expected to turns some heads this year.
In ESPN’s Summer Forecast on Wednesday for NBA Rookie of the Year, Russell was ranked fourth ahead of Justice Winslow of the Miami Heat:
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 19, 2015
Only two other rookies have been ranked ahead of Russell so far. Emmanuel Mudiay of the Denver Nuggets came in at number three while Okafor claimed the second spot. Karl-Anthony Towns will certainly be ranked number one with ESPN believing the Kentucky star will have the best chance to come out of his first season with the Minnesota Timberwolves as the top rookie in the NBA.
Russell will make his rookie debut for the Lakers on Oct. 28 against Towns’ Timberwolves at the Staples Center. A compelling matchup to say the least with Towns and Russell likely to be compared throughout their rookie campaigns. Although Towns and Russell will be mentioned in the same breath quite a bit early in the 2015-16 NBA season, Mudiay may be the one to watch in terms of direct comparisons with Russell.
The Lakers worked out Mudiay twice leading up to draft day with the team ultimately deciding Russell was the better backcourt prospect. Mudiay has since received rave reviews for his play during the NBA Summer League and could ultimately be the new face of the Nuggets franchise in Denver after the Ty Lawson trade.
Only time will tell if Russell can live up to expectations in Los Angeles, but there’s no question the pressure will be on right out of the gate with plenty of other rookies ready to make their mark on the next level.[divide]