Coming into the 2015-16 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers have a very promising young core of players and if the team plans on making some noise in the Western Conference, it will be because of the play of Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and D’Angelo Russell.
Clarkson is more of a proven commodity than the other two at this stage. He was easily the Lakers best player down the stretch of last season and was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team as a result. He has been in pressure situations in the NBA.
Russell, obviously, is a rookie, and Randle, after breaking his fibula in the season opener last year, might as well be a rookie also. How either of these players will look in major NBA minutes is a complete unknown at this time.
Both players have outstanding potential to turn into perennial All-Stars someday. Randle is a bruising power forward with surprising quickness and ball handling ability for his size. Russell is a smooth point guard with excellent poise, vision, and a great jumper as well. Both will have an excellent opportunity to shine this season, but which one will make a bigger impact this season?
We asked our panel of experts which player they believe will have a better ‘rookie’ season: D’Angelo Russell or Julius Randle? This is what they had to say:
Jabari Davis (@JabariDavisNBA): Even though Julius Randle’s 2014-15 season was cut to all of 14 minutes prior to suffering a broken leg during the opener vs. the Houston Rockets, he still reaped the benefits of not only being around the team and developing relationships with players and coaches alike, but he was also able to take the year in order to simply learn about what life is like in the NBA.
While that might sound minor, rookie D’Angelo Russell would probably be the first to acknowledge the inevitable adjustments that are required when you are suddenly elevated to ‘NBA player’ status regardless of how poised and prepared you are.
You’d like to see each of them escape training camp without any significant injuries or setbacks (see: D’Angelo’s foot scare) so that both can hit the ground running by the time the regular season arrives on October 28. While both will face incredible challenges on a nightly basis, the more difficult transition might understandably be in the capable hands of Russell.
Not only will he face a tough matchup each and every time he suits up, he’ll also be responsible for orchestrating things and generating scoring opportunities for teammates. Put simply, his main job is to actually make life easier for Randle and the rest of the team to produce on the offensive end.
Randle may find his groove and ultimately produce better numbers, but Russell’s continued leadership development and all-around productivity could ultimately prove to be more pivotal to the team’s overall success. Even if his contributions aren’t always as apparent in the box score.
Trevor Lane (@Trevor_Lane): Both D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are exciting prospects who have the potential to be key cogs in the effort to pull the Lakers back from the brink. Russell in particular appears to have the highest upside, as his mixture of sweet shooting, ball handling, and otherworldly passing gives him the greatest probability of becoming a true superstar.
That said, when projecting who will have the best rookie season I have to give the nod to Randle. While he wasn’t able to play last season due to a broken leg, Randle still had the opportunity to be around the pro game and soak it all in. He learned the rigors of the NBA travel schedule, analyzed the systems that both the Lakers and other teams run, and observed first-hand what it takes to be a professional basketball player.
That information is invaluable, and will make Randle’s transition into the NBA this season easier than it will be for Russell. While it would appear that Russell’s skill set would give him a leg up on Randle, the NBA’s push towards playmaking power forwards with the versatility to put the ball on the floor and then make the correct decision fits Randle to a T.
After spending the summer slimming down a bit while maintaining muscle mass, Randle is as ready to take on the NBA. Teammates have also lent credibility to this notion, with players like Tarik Black and Jordan Clarkson raving about the progress Randle has made over the summer.
Russell is certainly an exciting prospect, but at the end of the day Randle appears to be primed to have a better rookie season. Regardless, both are going to be a lot of fun to watch and will give Lakers fans plenty of reason to be excited about the future.
Corey Hansford (@TheeCoreyH): This is a very tough decision for me. I, admittedly, wasn’t as high on D’Angelo Russell during the draft process and his play in summer league didn’t do much to excite me or much of the Lakers fan base. However, I am really starting to come around on him and feel he has the better chance to shine this season.
My feelings on Russell are beginning to change after hearing the comments of so many Lakers veterans, as well as limited views of him in practice during training camp. The main issue that plagues most rookie point guards is the speed of the game, and maintaining poise and control. By all accounts, that seems to be Russell’s strongest suit.
Something else that leans me towards Russell is that he is the one true point guard guaranteed to be on the roster. Marcelo Huertas could make the team, but that is far from a sure thing. Other than him, score-first options like Jordan Clarkson, Lou Williams, or even Kobe Bryant would be next in line. Needless to say, Russell will have a major opportunity with little competition.
Randle has all of the talent in the world, but he also has a little more competition with Brandon Bass breathing down his neck. It isn’t hard to picture the reliable veteran Bass taking minutes away from Randle if he struggles which would put a major dent in his production.
I have high hopes that both players will reach their potential and be part of the Lakers core for years to come, but Russell will have the ball in his hands all season, which makes me lean towards him as having the bigger year.