Many were surprised when the Los Angeles Lakers passed up on big man Jahlil Okafor and selected point guard out of Ohio State, D’Angelo Russell, with the second pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Though general manager Mitch Kupchak conceded that the current style of play may have played a small factor in their decision, ultimately, it was Russell’s pure talent that the organization felt they could not pass up on.
“At No. 2, you hope to get a player that has All-Star capability, and we think we did. He’s got gifts that you can work really long and hard on and still not acquire those gifts,” Kupchak remarked moments after the draft.
Since then, Kupchak’s continued to voice his confidence, recently telling SiriusXM NBA Radio, that he envisions Russell and Jordan Clarkson in the Lakers backcourt for the next 10-12 years.
Kupchak isn’t the only one with a big vision for these two young guards. Former Laker and two-time NBA Champion, Norm Nixon told LakersNation.com that he thinks this duo could grow to be one of the best in the league.
“You don’t expect them to change the world this year,” Nixon said of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. “But, if they can get out and get 25-30 minutes a game for 82 games, these guys will be one of the best backcourts in the league if they live up to their potential.”
The public got a quick glimpse of what Clarkson and Russell might look like together in the backcourt during NBA Summer League, with Clarkson looking more comfortable as the secondary ball-handler/scorer, but either able to run the floor and set up the offense.
“They are very athletic. They have size, [they are] knowledgeable players,” Nixon said of the Lakers future backcourt. “It’s just a matter of getting out there and playing and continuing to develop.”
Russell was far from satisfied with his Summer League performance, citing assertiveness and lackadaisical defense as a couple areas he needs to focus on. In his five games, Russell averaged 11.8 points, 3.2 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 steal, and 5.20 turnovers per game. With a full NBA season under his belt, Clarkson picked up right where he left off, averaging 16.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists per game and looking extremely comfortable and confident on the floor.
Lakers training camp is less than a month away, with their first preseason game kicking off October 4th against the Utah Jazz in Hawaii. It’ll be interesting to see the different lineups head coach Byron Scott puts together and if Russell looks more comfortable and assertive out on the court during preseason.[divide]