The Los Angeles Lakers just came across an identity challenge in the 2015 NBA Draft last week. They threw something of a curve ball by drafting Ohio State guard D’Angelo Russell with the no. 2 overall pick, particularly after multiple reports indicated that they had their sights set on Duke big man Jahlil Okafor.
Although this shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, as Bleacher Report Senior Writer Kevin Ding reported prior to the draft that the Lakers were leaning towards drafting Russell after an impressive second workout.
I think as Laker fans we subconsciously marveled in the idea of molding the next great big man because of what the big man means to Laker tradition. I think we also subconsciously wanted to make up for the Dwightmare. I’ll admit I was wrapped up in the idea of Okafor, too. It just felt right. But the more I toyed with the notion of D’Angelo Russell as a Laker, frankly, the more content I became with us drafting either one.
Byron praised Russell’s leadership and command in his 3 on 3 workout. Byron: “The last guy I saw do that that I played with was Earvin.”
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) June 26, 2015
You can’t tell me that a young nucleus of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and a returning Julius Randle (who has apparently lost 18 pounds and looks great) isn’t exactly what teams are looking for right now. These are three budding playmaking figures in their own right, and positionally they compliment each other nicely. Russell and Clarkson can be used as co-combo guards and Randle is the tweener forward; a potently premature Big 3, if you will.
Playmaking. People aren’t just saying it’s a guard’s league just to say it. When you’re in a conference with Steph Curry, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook, the need for perimeter playmaking screams at you. Sure, there’s Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin, Marc Gasol, and others, but with the current landscape of the league, I want dynamic guard play for my team. We haven’t had that in a long time, and the idea of it makes me giddy.
Make no mistake, D’Angelo Russell is absolutely one of those guards with a special feel for the game, not unlike Jahlil Okafor does as a post player. At 19 years old I don’t expect Russell to instantly re-glorify the Lakers, but I do think he makes us a little bit better right away. He’s just as much an IQ-player as he is a raw talent. He knows how to set the table and how to get saucy. He can create his own shot and has elite passing awareness. He can be electric with the basketball. He’ll make us more fun and bearable to watch right away, and if you ask me, his presence makes us much more attractive in free agency this summer.
To have seen Jahlil Okafor under Laker mentorship would have been a wonderful sight, but now consider the influence of Kobe Bryant on the upcoming Laker guard core. D’Angelo Russell’s confidence is already through the roof — he’s likened himself to Steph Curry and says he wears the number “0” because that’s how many people can guard him. Imagine how he’ll attack the learning curve with Kobe in his ear.
Ari Wasserman from the Northeast Ohio Media Group, who has covered Ohio State basketball for the past six seasons, believes D’Angelo Russell has the potential to be “Westbrook-good”. I don’t know if D’Angelo Russell is going to be a star. I know that he can be, and I know he’s gifted enough to make an impact on this level. The new Laker identity is now being bred from the backcourt out, and as a guard myself, I’m not sure I could be any more excited.