The Los Angeles Lakers selected Ohio State Buckeyes point guard D’Angelo Russell with the second overall pick of the 2015 NBA draft on June 25.

If this is any indication, this year’s draft could turn the fortunes of the once-proud Lakers franchise around.

According to LakersNation.com’s Russell Valenzuela, many league experts initially thought the Lakers would draft a big man such as the Duke Blue Devils’ Jahlil Okafor.

It turned out the Purple and Gold would not go in that direction.

The Lakers stand to boost their offense with Russell on board. According to Joey Ramirez of their official website, the 19-year-old had the highest scoring average among freshmen in the NCAA last season with a 19.3 points-per-game average.

As good as Russell is in driving the lane, he was also known for his outside shooting. In his lone NCAA season, he wound up second in the Big Ten Conference in three-pointers made (95) and three-point percentage (41.1), per Lakers.com.

However, Russell is not just about putting points on the board. Ramirez stresses Russell is also a budding playmaker, as his average of 5.0 assists last season placed him third in the Big Ten.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told Ramirez on Thursday he and his staff exhausted all options in scouting the much-coveted point guard:

We exhausted everything that’s available to us in terms of scouting Ohio State this year—film work, bringing him in twice, working him out and having dinner, talking basketball.

My staff took D’Angelo out for dinner, and the coaching staff took him out the next evening.

Considering the options that are available to us to evaluate players, we had all the information available to make our decision.

There are a lot of good players in this draft. We felt, he, at No. 2, was a player we couldn’t pass on.

Aside from Kupchak, Lakers head coach Byron Scott came away impressed with Russell. Scott told Ramirez that Russell knocked shots from inside and out, passed extremely well and displayed uncanny leadership ability during his second workout with the team in El Segundo, Calif.

With these, Scott hailed Russell as “special” and “the best player in the draft,” per The Los Angeles Daily News’ Mark Medina.

Russell’s superstar prowess comes as no surprise after he made a startling revelation during a pre-draft workout with the Lakers in early June.

He told The Los Angeles Times’ Eric Pincus  he patterns his game after 2014-15 NBA MVP and NBA champion Stephen Curry.

“I just try to model my game after Steph Curry. With his success, he didn’t come into the league playing the way he’s playing now,” Russell told Pincus. “It took some time and  the player he’s developed to be, I see a great resemblance.”

Russell, a Lakers fan, told The Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bresnahan after the team drafted him on Thursday he felt like “busting out like a baby, in tears.”

Russell also told Bresnahan he’s looking forward to playing with Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and learning all he can from the five-time NBA champion.

With Russell on board, Bryant could find his workload reduced. In addition, NBA All-Rookie First Team selection Jordan Clarkson could see more time at the 2-spot (his more natural position) with Russell as the Lakers’ first option at the point, per a separate update from Medina.

 

The Parting Shot

It looks like the Los Angeles Lakers scored a coup by drafting D’Angelo Russell.

Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, who gave the Lakers a “B+” the Russell selection, is all praises for his court vision, court awareness and passing ability.

Russell’s wingspan allows him to ballhawk unlike any guards his size. He also has excellent ball-handling skills. Mannix rates him way higher than other players his age in terms of his upside and development.

On the other hand, CBS Sports’ Matt Moore labels Russell as a “game-changer in the modern NBA” because of his versatile offense, ability to play the pick n’ roll and go up and down the floor.

Mannnix says the major downside with Russell is his lack of experience at the point guard position. Despite his tremendous abilities, he is not that explosive of an athlete.

Rather, he relies more on his instinct and basketball I.Q. to get by, per Sports Illustrated.

Despite Russell’s shortcomings, his positives far outweigh his negatives.

As previously mentioned, he can do just about everything on offense. With his height (6’5″), he can also post up smaller point guards although this is one facet of his game that needs a bit more polishing.

Russell displayed tremendous poise for someone of his age and experience in the NCAA. The bigger question looms: At just 19 years old, will he be able to pull this off in the NBA? Yes, but it won’t happen overnight.

For one, Russell may have “superstar” written all over him, but he’s no Earvin “Magic” Johnson just yet. If Lakers head coach Byron Scott plans to play him more,  it could very well be the end of the line for unrestricted free agent Jeremy Lin.

The more realistic scenario has Jordan Clarkson being the starter and Russell coming off the bench. If the rookie plays better than expected, he could find himself starting by midseason.

It would be difficult to entrust the offense to a 19-year-old rookie like Russell. However, given his exceptional feel for the game, we shouldn’t be surprised if he calls the shots on the floor sooner than later.

The presence of Kobe Bryant will certainly rub off on Russell. The latter will learn a lot from the savvy veteran. We don’t expect Russell to carry the Lakers the way Johnson did in the 1980 NBA Finals. The Lakers are not just there yet, and neither is Russell.

If they do end up adding Dwyane Wade and/or LaMarcus Aldridge, then they have a shot at the playoffs. Without both of them, the Lakers are still bottom feeders in the Pacific Division.

That being said, it may take a bit more time before the Lakers overtake the Los Angeles Clippers for Southern California bragging rights.

But for now, adding someone like D’Angelo Russell is an all-important first step in the Los Angeles Lakers’ climb back to respectability.

 

 

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