D’Angelo Russell I PG I Lakers
About that NBA draft that appeared to be a Lakers slam dunk?They broke ankles, stepped back, and shot a trey.All the hype over the franchise-changing big man the Lakers would be miraculously handed with their second pick?They didn’t want him.The celebration over the acquisition of a kid who can lead the Lakers into their next championship era?
That kid might actually be a 29-year-old dude from Portland.
In their best no-look pass since Magic, the Lakers snubbed Duke center Jahlil Okafor for Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell on Thursday with a pick that was about far more than Okafor or Russell.
In a bit of a surprise, the Lakers took Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick in the N.B.A. draft, choosing not to take Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, who had been the presumptive No. 1 pick for much of the year and led the Blue Devils to the N.C.A.A. championship.
Russell, 19, stands 6 feet 5 inches and averaged 19.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5 assists a game. Able to play either guard position, Russell has drawn comparisons to James Harden, and was a finalist for the John R. Wooden Award.
Yet Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who pushed hard for Russell, said there was one main difference between the players.
“I think Okafor is going to be a good center in this league,” Scott said. “I just think D’Angelo has a chance to be a superstar.”
Scott said he made his decision during Russell’s second workout with the Lakers, a series of three-on-three games that showed his competitive skills. Scott marveled at Russell’s leadership qualities, his ability to make the smart pass, get to the basket, shoot the three-ball, and play tough defense. During Scott’s news conference Tuesday he actually brought up the names Magic Johnson and Chris Paul while saying the kid seems to have to the toughness to hang with Kobe Bryant.
“He has a little bit of an edge to himself,” Scott said.
During a conference call interview with reporters, Russell showed a bit of that edge when he said he wanted to “definitely bring back that winning attitude.”
Russell acknowledged he was stunned to be chosen ahead of Okafor, but then said one needed only to watch the NBA Finals to understand why.
“Who won the championship?” he said. “[Golden State] did, they put something together beautiful with just wings and guards…. This is slowly changing into a wings and guard league.”