When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted 19-year-old rookie D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA draft, passing up on Jahlil Okafor (and, in hindsight Kristaps Porzingis), the jury was mixed on whether the front office made the right choice. Now, looking back on the rookie’s roller coaster of a season, the jury is still out on whether Russell has the potential to be a superstar in the NBA.
Former head coach Byron Scott appeared on The Dan Patrick Show on Monday morning, about a week after it was announced that Mitch Kupchak, Jim Buss and company decided to part ways with Scott, after just two seasons. Scott admitted he was “a little blindsided” by their decision, after feeling a mutual understanding upon his hiring that the rebuilding process would take a few years.
Scott was also asked about whether he felt Russell could be a star at the point guard position, and while he absolutely sees the potential, he also raised a couple of red flags.
“I think he (Russell) can (be a star),” Scott said on The Dan Patrick Show. “Obviously, there’s going to be some question marks with that. His work ethic has to get better. His understanding of the game has to get better, but he can flat out score, and he really sees the floor extremely well. He has some tools you can’t teach, but the little intricate parts of the game are the things he has to learn.”
But, it wasn’t just Russell’s work ethic that raised eyebrows with Scott, it was also a sense of entitlement when he came into the league.
“I think some of these guys, when they come into the league, they think they’re entitled, and I thought that’s how he (Russell) felt when he first got with us,” Scott said. “He almost tried to act like he was a veteran, and I tried to make sure that he knew that he wasn’t a veteran, that you have to earn your stripes. So yeah, there were times where I was a little tough on him, just to bring him back down to earth, to let him know that this is not an easy task when you’re in the NBA. That’s the easy part is getting there, the hardest part is staying there, getting better and better. Yeah, I had some tough love for the young man. But, I had a lot of love for him. He was put in some tough situations obviously, but I think he’s going to be a good player.”
Throughout the season, Russell voiced concern on understanding his role, while Scott continually pushed Russell to work harder. And of course, Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour added another intricate layer to the puzzle, often taking away from the development of the young core. We saw stretches of potential interrupted by droughts and questions raised about what position Russell best fits in the NBA.
Even general manager Mitch Kupchak addressed the issue of figuring out the best way to utilize Russell’s gifts moving forward.
“That’s part of our challenge moving forward is to figure out how we can best use his talents,” Kupchak said at the conclusion of the season. “The two things I know he can do is: he can score, and he has a unique gift to pass the ball. Not just being a willing passer on an entry, but a guy who can see the court (in a way where not many players can). Something we have to as an organization and as a coach, use his talents the best way.”
Luke Walton now has the challenge of figuring out how to best use his talents, finishing his rookie season averaging 28.2 minutes, 13.2 points, 3.3 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 turnovers per game in his 80 games played (48 of which were starts).
Walton recently said he does think Russell has the potential to be an All-Star. We’ll just have to wait and see.