The opening of the NBA season is always sure to ignite the fires of hot takes and generate numerous questions surrounding players in the league. Some things are interesting to discuss, such as Kawhi Leonard becoming the league’s best two-way player. Other things are sure to raise eyebrows, like the resurgence of Kendrick Perkins as a frontline anchor for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Speaking of questions, the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to prove that their use of rookie D’Angelo Russell is sure to fulfill the 19-year old’s potential. Last night’s opener did little to cement that belief, but it was largely in part to a new adjustment.
While Russell excelled as Ohio State University’s lead guard in the NCAA, he found himself starting at shooting guard in his first NBA game. While he’s surely capable of providing the scoring of a 2-guard, Russell does his damage as a playmaker for teammates.
It’s never a good thing when any of your guards end the game with as many turnovers (three) as assists (two) and baskets made (two) like Russell did. The good news is that all is not lost, and barring any injury, Russell has 81 more chances and beyond to prove that he understands the speed and physicality of the NBA.
In order for him to make the anticipates leap, it will take preparation and confidence to match his skill set. Many pundits will continue to doubt Russell’s ability, but going forward, there’s a few things working in his favor that will aid his adjustment.
Byron Scott Giving The Green Light
After last night’s loss, it was obvious that Russell was out of sorts, and looking for ways to adapt without much ball-handling to do. Understandably, Byron Scott wants to bring Russell along slowly, in a similar fashion that he did with Jordan Clarkson.
While Scott has had a reputation of sitting younger players, he loves the maturation and IQ of Russell, hence his starting spot in the lineup. Yesterday Scott elected to let Russell be the facilitator that he loves. Both Scott and Russell spoke to Inside The Lakers reporter Mark Medina about the rookie’s role going forward:
“The one thing I have to get D’Angelo to get better at is pushing the tempo,” Scott said. “He’s probably a better decision maker even at 19 years old and it’s his rookie year. So we’ll have him on the ball right now.”
“It was cool. I wouldn’t say it took me away from my game,” Russell said. “I just adjusted from being the point guard and then playing off the ball is not foreign to me. I can do that. But in practice, I gained the chemistry with playing with guys on the ball.”
This is certainly a huge step forward in terms of Scott’s recognition of Russell’s strength and what’s best for him. Many fans have been afraid that Scott would stick to old ways, but things are looking up in his coaching. The even better thing is Russell’s acknowledgement of the chemistry he has at lead guard. A lot of aggression is expected from Russell’s next performance.
It’s Just Game One
Are we going to give up on D’Angelo Rusell after one game? We shouldn’t! This is a player that has been known to study film and look for spots to put imprints on the game.
To put it in perspective, Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul had a similar outing in his first professional competition, tallying four assists and four turnovers with only three made baskets. For what it’s worth, Chris Paul turned out pretty good.
In no form or fashion is Russell comparable to Paul, aside from sharing Byron Scott as a head coach, but this will be the tier he will be compared to during his career.
You won’t find many teenagers that will immediately dominate an NBA matchup. This is one of the many reasons that we have to temper the expectations on Russell. Most of the hype is surrounded by Russell being the second selection on one of the league’s most successful franchises.
Other expectations are added due to the turnaround that fans are expecting in the midst of their rebuild. What can be assured is that Russell is up for the challenge, and his mentors surrounding him are out to set up his success. As the older minds of Kobe Bryant, Byron Scott and Mitch Kupchak watch with patience, fans must do the same and trust the process of a teenager growing up before our eyes.
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