The Los Angeles Lakers took a gamble when they selected D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick in 2015. The consensus pick was Duke center Jahlil Okafor, and high-risk, high-reward selection would have been international big man Kristaps Porzingis, but the Lakers saw qualities that they liked in Russell. He has incredible court vision, confidence for days, and absolutely zero fear of the big moment.
Russell endured an up-and-down rookie season that saw him struggle to adapt to the demands of then-coach Byron Scott and establish a rhythm in the midst of the Kobe Bryant retirement tour. Still, Russell displayed flashes of brilliance, and with both Scott and Bryant no longer in the fold, the keys to the kingdom are now his. With big things expected for the coming season, Russell landed at No. 49 in the SLAM Top 50 for the 2016-17 NBA season:
On the season, D’Angelo averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 28.2 minutes, while shooting 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from deep. He ranked second in total points among rookies, third in total assists, second in total steals, and first in three-pointers made. Yet, it was the growth from Game 1 to Game 82 that was so eye-opening, and that should leave Western Conference teams in a panic.
While it may be a bit much to say that the Western Conference should be in a panic over Russell’s development, it is true that his improvement over the course of the season was impressive. Russell followed that up with a dominant Summer League performance, which included buzzer-beating three to down Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers, complete with the instantly iconic “ice in my veins” celebration.
The burden placed upon Russell’s shoulders next season will be great, but all indications are that he is ready for the challenge. The Lakers may not be expected to win much, but watching young players like Russell develop will still provide plenty of fun.