D’Angelo Russell was drafted in 2015 with many believing that he had Magic Johnson’s passing skills, but Magic just passed on him. Having just traded Russell, the Lakers now have an opening for the point guard position and are in a very similar situation they were in two years ago with the opportunity to draft Lonzo Ball, a 6’6” point guard praised with his elite vision and passing ability.
But will Lonzo finally be the point guard of the future that the Lakers thought they once had in Russell? At this point, it’s difficult to tell. Coming out of college, both had similar hype in that they are considered potential franchise point guards with the talent to run an elite offense. Along with their talent and size, both are considered to have that “it” factor to become a superstar.
Let’s compare their college stats from their freshman year to see how they stack up against one another.
D’Angelo Russell’s Freshman Year Stats:
Lonzo Ball’s Freshman Year Stats:
As we can see, their stats are strikingly similar other than D’Angelo averaged slightly more points than Ball and Ball averaged slightly more assists per game. This is what confuses me about the trade the Lakers just made. D’Angelo has been in the league for only two years now and his numbers have been steadily improving with him showing flashes of one day becoming a star player. In March, he became the youngest player in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise to score 40 points in a game. Even LeBron James praised him saying, “He’s a special guy. He’s a special player.”
D’Angelo Russell is a very similar type of player to James Harden in that they have similar size, are both lefties, and have great vision. Like Russell, Harden got off to a slow start in OKC averaging 9.9 points per game his rookie year and 12.2 points per game during his sophomore year. Sure, he was coming off the bench behind KD and Westbrook, but for a player who doesn’t rely on his athleticism, but rather his craftiness to score and create for teammates, it takes some time to adjust to the speed and style of the NBA game.
This is exactly what’s happening with Russell. Once he adjusts to the game, like he was showing in the second half of last season, he’s going to prove to be a real threat from both a scoring and passing perspective. He just needs time. And unfortunately the Lakers didn’t give him that.
So now, the Lakers are in a similar situation drafting a player that lacks elite athleticism, but has the size and court vision to potentially become a special player. However, I think Lonzo is entering a far better situation than what Russell entered into in 2015.
The Lakers have an elite, young coach in Luke Walton who preaches a fast-paced, uptempo offense along with a strong core of young players. In addition, star players like Paul George are expected to join the Purple and Gold in the next couple of years. For a rookie, Ball is entering a seemingly perfect situation. He’ll have a year to adjust to the league before Paul George (and maybe LeBron?) joins in the summer of 2018 and play in an offense that fits perfectly with his strengths of pushing the ball and creating for teammates.
The past few years have been tough for Lakers fans as losses continue to pile up during the rebuild, but I think this season will finally be the turning point where we’ll see the Lakers become an exciting team to watch with Lonzo running the point and distributing to young, exciting players like Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. The ball is in Lonzo’s hands now, let’s see what magic he can bring to the Lakers.