Top 5: Is D’Angelo Russell the next Lakers superstar? He BETTER be…

June 26, 2015

Depending on who you ask, by selecting guard D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft instead of center Jahlil Okafor, the Lakers may have either finally evolved and adapted to the prevailing league trend towards small-ball...or irresponsibly abandoned their long tradition of believing centers were real difference-makers.

Officially it appears that the Lakers themselves are looking to sidestep that debate. They insist they picked Russell because he was the best player available. They say Okafor will probably be good, but Russell is more likely to be great. Indeed, head coach Byron Scott was already comparing the 19-year old Buckeye to Magic Johnson and Chris Paul while using words like “superstar” to describe his upside potential.

So is Russell the next Lakers great or is he a bust? The most reasonable answer in these situations is to temper both expectations and fears and pick somewhere in the middle. To predict that he will likely be a good player with an outside chance of being something special.

But what’s so intriguing about this pick is that Russell doesn’t really fit that mold. He invites you to believe he will be great…or makes you doubt whether he will even be better than average.

For example, consider the recent statistical projections on all of the top prospects. They identified four categories of probabilities for the top 50 draft picks: superstar, starter, role player, or bust.

Those that are thrilled with this pick will likely revel in the fact that the ESPN-affiliated site’s analytical report gives Russell a 15.2% chance of being a “superstar” – higher than all other players in the NBA draft. They will naturally praise the Lakers boldness in trying to shoot for the moon.

Detractors will note that Russell’s chances of being a “bust” were calculated at nearly three times that (40.9%) – also the highest of any player in the top 25. They are still in shock that the Lakers turned away from drafting the best offensive post prospect in the past decade in Okafor.

Of course, no one really knows for certain just how good Russell will or won’t be. And if Russell meets all the highest expectations then who will really be complaining? But if he doesn’t…

Here quickly are the top 5 reasons D’Angelo Russell was the right pick…and the top five reasons he was the wrong one.


Right pick: The standard “eye test” confirms that Russell has great handles, unique court vision, good length, and a smooth shooting stroke.

Wrong pick: The “eye test” also suggests Russell is an average athlete and defender who isn’t great finishing in the paint with his right hand or when contested by size.


Right pick: Russell is a naturally flashy playmaker who can play the premium position of point guard in an increasingly perimeter-oriented NBA. Even a "really good but not great" perimeter player is more valuable than a really good big man, just look at the Warriors.

Wrong pick: The plethora of really good point guards in the NBA suggests that acquiring one via free agency or trade is usually easier than snagging a quality big man. Big men are still vital to the success of most great teams and the Warriors are more an anomaly than a trend.


Right pick: Russell was a first team All American guard who carried an average Ohio State team to the NCAA tournament with his all-around skills, averaging 19.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, and 5.0 apg.

Wrong pick: Ohio State mostly played like the average team it was before sneaking into the tournament as a #10 seed. Russell’s 1.72:1 assist to turnover ratio is nothing special.


Right pick: Russell was unquestionably his team’s leader as a mere freshman and took almost 15 shots per game. He has swag and the "it" factor in some eyes. He also shot 41.1% from 3 while taking 6.6 attempts per game, showing deep range and a willingness to take the big shot.

Wrong pick: Ohio State benefited from a very weak season schedule. Russell’s stats reveal he played much better against weaker opponents than good ones. Overall he still shot under 45% from the field and in his final collegiate game against Arizona he went 3 for 19.


Right pick: The Lakers main alternative with this pick, center Jahlil Okafor, had limited upside potential because he doesn’t have explosive hops, is not great on defense, was a poor free throw shooter, and Duke prospects often flame out. The Lakers will also surely add Aldridge, Love, or Cousins this summer to be their elite inside player.

Wrong pick: Okafor can improve on any of his deficiencies and very few big guys in the NBA have Okafor’s already-proven offensive ability in the paint. He was a champion in high school and college all with the pressure of being the acknowledged top prospect. The Lakers are in huge trouble if they don’t land Aldridge, Love, or Cousins.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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