D’Angelo Russell had a rough rookie season.
In his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell wrestled with his coach and battled with the media. It’s not easy being drafted to the highest profile, most impatient franchise in the NBA. Russell’s rookie season was chalked full of turbulent headlines: ‘The Nick Young Scandal’, ‘Tough Love with Byron Scott’, and my personal favorite, ‘The Kobe Bryant Show’. There’s no doubt Russell was surprised by the negativity surrounding his first year in the NBA. The rookie came into the league drawing high praise from then head coach, Byron Scott, who even compared Russell to Hall of Famer Magic Johnson over the summer.
Unfortunately for Lakers fans, Russel would find little praise from Scott throughout the remainder of the season. As the games advanced, Russell’s head coach constantly criticized him to the media, faulting his “cockiness” and taking shots at his development. While Russell began his rookie campaign as a starter, the former Ohio State standout often found himself riding the bench in the fourth quarter. Scott contributed this to his preference of playing veterans like Lou Williams and Young in crunch time.
The point guard position is loaded with talent in the NBA, and Russell struggled in his first few months in the league. With Bryant starting beside him, he wasn’t able to run the team and the Lakers offense looked stagnant. Scott’s constant berating of Russell to the media shook his confidence, and the rookie found himself moved to the bench in December.
Russell continued to work hard and put together a string of excellent games post All Star break, and his play forced Scott’s hand. Regaining his starting position, Russell excelled on court, averaging 18.6 points, 4.8 assists and 3 rebounds per game. It was safe to say Russell was feeling himself, dropping 39 points and a dagger three to close out the Brooklyn Nets. Showing off his now patent, ‘ice in my veins’ celebration, it seemed the Lakers had already found their leader post Kobe.
Then right when things started looking up for Russell, it all came crashing down. A video surfaced online of him recording teammate Nick Young admitting to being unfaithful to his then fiancé, Iggy Azalea. The young guard took responsibility for the video, creating a huge rift in the Lakers’ locker room. Reports swirled of Russell being shut out by teammates, and several professional athletes spoke out to crucify him even further. Russell was reeling in his rookie season and was desperate to find support, something he never found in Scott and had now lost in his teammates.
Russell played through the scrutiny and managed to regain the trust in his younger teammates. Eventually April came around, and Kobe Bryant blessed Staples Center with a miraculous 60-point farewell performance. The game marked a turning point for the franchise: for the first time in 20 years, the Lakers were void of a star. But was that truly the case?
As the season ended, Lakers management had finally come to the conclusion that Scott wasn’t the guy. The team fired the old school coach and went in the complete opposite direction, inking Ex-Laker and hot commodity Luke Walton, to a 5-year, $25 million deal. The acquisition was seen as a step in the right direction, as Walton proved his coaching prowess while leading the Golden State Warriors to a staggering 39-4 record last season (though officially Walton’s record is 0-0). With intimate knowledge of Golden States free flowing offense and the tools to succeed in today’s NBA, Walton is poised to bring out the best in Russell.
Unlike his relationship with Scott, Russell admits to finding comfort with Walton, and trusts the young coach to put him in position to succeed. While questions about his maturity remain, there is no questioning the guard’s talent. The Lakers have their star of the future in Russell, and the sophomore point showed just how much he has grown with his play in summer-league. The former college standout averaged 21.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.5 steals per game his second time around in Las Vegas.
Russel controlled games and bullied guards down low with his elite size and skill. While it was only a sample size, he showed fans and the Lakers brass alike that he is the man moving forward. With the acquisition of Brandon Ingram, the Lakers have a potential All Star duo in the making. Russell has managed to shake off the noisy drama that surrounded him last year, and hopes to grow on the lack of maturity he displayed his rookie season. As all of Los Angeles eyes the young guard, Lakers fans are expecting big things from Russell in his second campaign.