D’Angelo Russell did not have an ordinary rookie season. Last year’s No. 2 pick joined a dysfunctional, stuck-between-eras Los Angeles Lakers team that didn’t exactly empower him. Russell said nothing negative about playing next to Kobe Bryant, but the mere presence of the legend on his retirement tour meant that Russell wasn’t always comfortable. It did not help that Byron Scott yanked his minutes around, benched him and criticized him in the media.
In an interview with Fox Sports’ Rob Perez, Russell sort of said that his rookie year was “bad,” adding that he’ll be better for it:
FOX: So, your rookie year…
DAR: if it was bad … or whatever it was … It was bad. It wasn’t the best rookie year. But, I had some big learning experience from it and coming into this year — I’m beyond excited.
If you just saw this quote, heard that he was immature and read about him supposedly ruining the Lakers’ locker room, then you’d think that his first year in the NBA was a disaster. With the ball in his hands and new coach Luke Walton in charge, next season’s stories about Russell’s redemption might as well have already been written. Before those are published, though, let’s remember what he actually did on the court.
A comparison: In his 80 games, Russell had a 50.7 percent true shooting percentage, a 24.1 percent usage rate, a 21.3 percent assist rate and a 6.5 percent rebounding rate. In John Wall‘s Rookie of the Year season, he had a 51 percent true shooting percentage, a 28.4 percent usage rate, a 44.9 percent assist rate and a 7.6 percent rebounding rate.
Russell has some developing to do as a passer, but you could argue that Scott’s system held him back from displaying the court vision he showed at Ohio State. All of the tools that made him such a promising prospect — size, shot creation, 3-point shooting, creativity — were still there, and he’ll be in a better position to showcase them this coming year. As The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pointed out, Russell averaged 18.7 points and 4.7 assists per 36 minutes when Bryant wasn’t on the court, via NBAWowy.com. No one should apologize for these numbers.
If you thought Russell was headed for stardom this time last year, your opinion should not have changed. Few first-year players are as adept at running the pick-and-roll as he was, and fewer still can operate out of the post, too. Russell was right when he said that his rookie season “wasn’t the best,” but it was far from discouraging. Despite all the drama, he is still the most important part of the Lakers’ future.
Source: CBS Sports / Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell doesn’t need to apologize for his rookie season