Under the guidance of head coach Luke Walton, the Los Angeles Lakers have now embarked on a rebuilding era, attempting to create the Lakers’ next brand of championship basketball. With D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram leading the young core, the team is fully invested in going through the growing pains of the NBA.
For Russell, his journey during his first two seasons in the NBA has come with some trials and tribulations. While being drafted No. 2 overall by the Lakers, it seemed as though Russell seemed ecstatic to join the illustrious franchise, which has won 16 NBA championships.
However, during his first year in the NBA, Russell was involved in many daunting headlines. Aside from the drama between he and former head coach Byron Scott, the Kentucky native was ambushed by the media during the saga with Nick Young and his former fiancée, Iggy Azalea.
After a troublesome rookie season, in which many basketball aficionados believed he underperformed, he was being labeled as a villain. Russell reflected on that period in an interview with Baxter Holmes of ESPN, stating that he heard the chants regarding him being a bust and troublemaker:
“Going around the league, people know, ‘Oh, he got in some trouble’ or ‘He didn’t play well his rookie year’ or ‘He’s a bust.’ That’s the headline,” D’Angelo says. “I’m going to have a million more opportunities to create new headlines, and I can’t wait. Can’t wait.”
Russell’s outlook during his sophomore season is completely different than what it was before. The 20-year-old has formed quite the bond with Walton, as have the other young players on the roster. The young core participated in voluntary workouts during the summer, allowing Walton a chance to mesh.
The outlook regarding the Lakers has tremendously grown this season, even with the team now battling through injury issues. Upon the Lakers starting the season over .500, it showed the impressive results Walton and the young core have gone through on such a small sample size.
Although the Lakers have currently lost eight in a row, their outlook hasn’t changed. In their first season with their rookie head coach, the Lakers will have a tremendous amount of things to improve upon.
Walton has issued a recent challenge, wanting the players to gain a mentally strong background, which will help them execute in crucial points during a game.
Walton, Russell and the Lakers understand that improvement in the NBA is an ongoing process and doesn’t come cheap. When Russell was asked about going through the difficulties of his rookie season, he commented on the cohesiveness the 2016-17 roster has and the expectations he has for the Lakers moving forward:
“I don’t want that ever again,” Russell says. “I don’t want to come in with a losing record. I don’t want to go to a losing team and you’ve got guys going every which way after practice — the chemistry just wasn’t there. I feel like with this team and with this organization, people want to be a part of it. People want to be Lakers. There’s just so much pressure, and some guys handle it and some guys can’t. I’ve always been a guy that, I don’t know, just attacks pressure. I want to be a part of this whole thing turning back around. I’ve seen what it was to be at its lowest point. I want to be a part of a playoff run this year … next year, Finals.”
Through 16 games this season, Russell is averaging a career-high 15.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. In the 16 games he has played this season, the Lakers are 7-9. Russell has battled back to rejoin the Lakers’ rotation this season, after dealing with soreness and plasma injections with his knee.
While the young star continues molding his game to the NBA level, the mental aspect and basketball IQ related instances will vastly improve. Russell and the Lakers take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, as a part of their seven-game road trip.